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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Dealing with Difficult Coworkers and Bosses

Dear Sue: How do you deal with difficult people at work? I work with someone who always snaps when anyone asks a question or makes a suggestion. This is becoming a huge problem for all of us. I want to help, but what can I do?

- A concerned employee

Sue Says: Difficult people can make things difficult for everyone, yet they rarely see themselves as the difficult one. If you are willing to talk with this person, consider an approach that wonít put him or her on the defense. Talking over lunch, a break, or away from your work environment might help. Donít speak for anyone but yourself; speak for yourself, and about your concerns.

Rather than making assumptions or placing blame, begin the conversation by asking questions. Take ownership for your concerns and ways you may be contributing to the problems youíve identified. Is it possible you (or others) too freely make suggestions or are a nuisance to your coworker? Perhaps you (or others) make too many suggestions or ask questions in a manner that put others on the defensive.

There is a chance your coworker will not change no matter what you try to do. If the problem continues after youíve tried to address it, youíll need to talk with your supervisor or someone else about your concerns.

Dear Sue: Iíve been assigned to a new supervisor who is determined to make my life miserable. She talks down to me, constantly has to know my whereabouts, who I am talking to when Iím on the phone and what the conversation is about. I understand her need to know these things to some extent, but she is out of control.

We canít talk to our coworkers; we canít go to the bathroom or ask another co-worker for help. I am a Christian woman, but this woman is really testing my faith and I know she canít stand me. I have prayed and I have cried. I have gone to her supervisor, but nothing has changed. I have been at this company for almost three years and like what I do, and the people I work with. The only problem is my supervisor. I canít afford to quit. Please help.

Ė Losing faith

Sue Says:  You have rights; you have the right to go to the bathroom, you have the right to speak, and you have the right to be treated fairly.

I understand you have tried many things, but I wonder if you have tried approaching your supervisor directly.

As long as you fear her, you surrender to her. When you are not afraid of her, speak up to her or attempt to understand the issues she has with you, the dynamics of your relationship will change. You donít have to meet with her alone; ask her supervisor and someone from human resources to be present.

If nothing changes and you remain unsatisfied, consider going to the companyís legal department.

You said quitting isnít an option and you didnít indicate you wanted to leave. You donít have many options. Know your rights; see to it you are treated fairly, but donít even try to win the friendship of your supervisor. She can try to make your life miserable, but remember, you donít have to allow her to succeed.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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