Advice and Examples: Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person. How did you handle it?
15. Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person. How did you handle it?
How to Answer
From your work history, picture a co-worker who didn't carry their weight or had a difficult personality. Maybe they were unmotivated or preoccupied with their personal life. Think about what bothered you about this person and how you were affected by their behavior. Most importantly, the interviewer wants to know how you let this person's behavior affect you and your work performance.
Avoid taking this as an opportunity to complain about someone; instead, view it as an opportunity to showcase your ability to deal with difficult people while maintaining your productivity.
"In my previous position, I did have a coworker who didn't pull their weight. Our team started to complete most of the tasks when it came to group projects. It didn't take much time before our manager noticed this particular individual was slacking. I feel like, in most instances, the underachievers will weed themselves out over time, and it's rarely worth making a fuss over."
"I once supported a very challenging VP as their executive assistant. Reading between the lines was the name of the game. This challenge became easier as time went on, and I got to know the ins and outs of my job better. However, the beginning was incredibly trying. I coped by asking my co-workers for advice or direction, or using my intuition and doing what I thought was best. The position certainly taught me independent thought and troubleshooting!"
"Difficult people make me tick! I enjoy trying to understand where they are coming from and then what techniques I can apply to help them improve their behavior or resolve a situation. Most difficult people want to feel like they have a voice. So, I listen, empathize and reassure them while still maintaining my position as their manager."
"One of the graphic designers I currently work with is a moody creative. The success of my position directly depends on his quality and timeliness of work, unfortunately. Because of this, I've learned to tap into how he operates. We use project management software to track where the project is, but I also have bi-weekly check-ins. I know he's better to deal with in the afternoon, and other little quirks about him. It's somewhat humorous at times, and I'm happy to have discovered some workarounds."
"In the past, I had a coworker who was very unmotivated. This situation was pretty difficult since I never wanted to let anyone down and would not allow something to remain undone. I was already doing more than my fair share of the work and was in no position of authority to change her attitude. I did pull her aside and let her know how actions impacted me. She picked up the pace for a bit but eventually my manager terminated her. Luckily her replacement was amazing!"
"In my first position out of college, I worked with a person who enjoyed gossip in the workplace. I found that I could redirect her to work by giving a quick reply and then asking her a pointed work question, which would get her back on task. There were a few key takeaways from this experience. I learned how to concentrate on chatter or disruption better than before, and I perfected my skills at refocusing someone else to the task at hand."
"I work with many challenging students, all of the time. I find that if I am struggling to reach a student that means I need to spend more time with them, rather than shy away as natural human instinct would have it. I will ask them how I can best help them, meet with their parents, and dive deeper into their needs."
"In the past, I had coworkers who were very unmotivated and didn't want to do some tasks.
I talk with them and let them know what impact it has on business and other employees if they don't want to do the job. After some training with them and show them how to doing, they understand and tried to be more happy and working."
Written by an Anonymous User
Our Professional Interview Coach
Kevin Downey Reviewed the Above Answer
I highlighted your communication and leadership skills in your response. See my edits below.
"I previously worked with peers who were unmotivated (and seemingly) stuck in a career rut. Since I had great relationships with them, I was able to discuss my observations and gave them recommendations to improve their performance. I discussed how their morale and actions were impacting those around them, and the business implications that resulted from their lowered productivity. Based on the way I talked through their issues, my peers were receptive and open to my words and training. In the end, they were more open to their projects and mindful of their morale. That was just the start, though. They went from underperforming to putting in the bare minimum. But I continued to work with them, getting them more involved in the big-picture and finding innovative ways to motivate them. After a while, they started over-performing with their more favored tasks. At that point I let them take ownership of their own development and focussed the energy I put into mentoring them to other priorities."
"We were working on a group project during a leadership course. One of the team members did not like the way the PM was directing the group. During a break, I asked if I could speak with the individual privately. I shared with him that I appreciated his passion for the project; however, I wondered if I might suggest that he give the PM more opportunity to explain her plan. We are here to develop other leaders, and I know she will learn from his expertise. He was receptive and agreed. When we returned to the group, he apologized."
Written by an Anonymous User
This was a nice approach and hopefully helped this person to be more aware of his communication in the future.
"Situation: During a recent project, me and another team member were both working on similar tasks and every day going home, I was feeling proud of myself for getting a lot of things done and was moving forward into completing my tasks.
But every other morning this co-worker was telling me his concerns about the project, our testing approach, the amount of work in the backlog, and it was making me doubt myself, my efforts and bringing my mood down.
Task: But still, I was trying to relieve his concerns and make our communication positive.
Action: So I always tried to cheer him up, and when I saw that his concerns and doubts distracted him from being productive, I arranged a meeting with our product owner to discuss these concerns and so the product owner would relieve those concerns and help the team member focus on the current tasks.
Result: After the conversation with the product owner, my coworker remained productive and focused. It helped him to stay positive so that he could focus on the tasks. And, our work dynamic was great."
Written by an Anonymous User
This situation sounds like a very tiring one, but you remained on-task and worked hard to keep a positive mindset. A good example and a wonderful approach to handling a difficult personality!