Working with difficult people, how to survive the politics

Three years ago in my old job, I remember my then-boss calling me whilst I was cooking dinner. It was 7.30pm. I turned off my podcast and put him on speakerphone whilst chopping garlic. He started speaking about a conversation he had just had with his senior. What he told me was an important update but not vital, and could certainly have waited until the next day. He did, of course text me first to check if it was okay to call me, but did not wait for a response. When he’d finished speaking, he asked me to make notes of everything he’d just told me. I was trying to concentrate on two things at once, the timing of the pasta I was halfway through cooking, and trying to listen to everything he was telling me. Cooking is my happy place. Not that night. For the rest of the evening I found my mind wondering to that conversation, wondering if I had caught everything on paper and then wondering why he has asked me to make notes when he has probably the same access to a pen and paper. It was this that irked me the most. And it is not the first time throughout my career this thoughtlessness has left me frustrated.


I have worked with a lot of dickheads. I have been working since I was sixteen and I have had more jobs than I can count on two hands. These jobs have varied greatly, from working as an au pair in Switzerland to a sweet wrapper for a famous chocolate company (FYI you can get sick of chocolate pretty quickly when faced with an unlimited supply). I was even dressed as a giant Volvic bottle for a promo job in Brighton, and my most glamorous job yet has been a hand model for a TV advert and no, the hand-job jokes never get tired. There has been one constant thread throughout all of these vocations. Working with dickheads. Some people are lucky, and work in a dream team, the type of people that gets shit  stuff done, will have your back in a meeting, will help out with the little tasks and not take all the credit for your work. These people are keepers and general all-round babes. I am fortunate enough to have worked with a few of them in my time, and still count them as friends. With the right team, working with others can be the can the most wonderful inspirational experience. But let’s be honest, there’s a lot of professional idiosyncrasies that can drive you crazy.

There’s a lot of dickheads in the workplace.

I worked with for one dickhead who used to ask me to go and pick up her dry-cleaning or chicken for her dog (FYI I was not hired as a PA but was the youngest in the team and consequently had to pick up the passive aggressive errands), I worked for another dickhead who was a downright bully and who would pick out one person in a meeting and ridicule them to the others as if there was a private joke between everyone. I worked with another dickhead who decided that getting hit by a car did not warrant me to take three days off, but elicited not to tell the owners that this was why I was reason for my absence from work and I received a notice of dismissal on my return. I worked for a micro-managing dickhead who would correct me on everything I did as a waitress, made me cry twice and was the most miserable person I had ever met. I worked in a pub for another dickhead who used to openly rate the women who applied for a job on their looks, and mark that rating on the right hand corner of their CV.  Another dickhead once scratched his groin whilst talking to me and when I pulled him up on it told me he was sorry but needed to do it. The same person picked his nose constantly when we had conference calls. I even had one dickhead who kept “forgetting” to pay me when I was working in a little coffee shop in Canterbury until I refused to come work until I got paid. He did pay up, eventually.

Let’s just say I have worked with all kinds of characters over the years, so much so that I feel I can impart some wisdom on anyone who currently has a work dickhead, or plural if you are really unlucky.

  1. Try to look at it from their point of view. This is something my mum always tells me, and 8/10 it helps. Are they under a lot of pressure? Are they going through something personally? Can you be a little kinder in your assessment of them? Take a breath and count to ten.
  2. Stay out of the politics. For some reason we love to unanimously moan about work, particularly we love to bond about how detestable we find someone at work. Whilst I do encourage confiding in someone, make sure you don’t make the behaviour out to be worse than it is, something I have been guilty of in the past.
  3. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Think about what you can learn from these people.  Working for dickheads has taught me to speak up a bit more and call out behaviour that is not okay.  I am also a bit more aware of when it is time to move on and look for another job, for my own mental health.
  4. Speak up. Whilst it is difficult, if you or someone else in the workplace is being bullied or harassed,  speak up. Speak to their senior, or HR if they are available. Ideally, if you feel comfortable, speak to the person in question first, and tactfully point out what you find frustrating. If they throw it in your face (and be prepared for that) at least you have tried to discuss it with them first. Keep a record of the dates things have been said/done, so that you can at least build a case on paper.
  5. There will definitely be more dickheads along the way. The grass is not always greener. Look at the good parts of your work.  My current boss definitely has his perks; he  can be very kind, he lets me get on with my work, he encourages me to take courses to develop my skillset.  I am also very aware that I can probably be difficult work with.

Most of all, call a dickhead out when they are being a dickhead (in more polite terms).

There is nothing they hate more.









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