How to Deal With Antagonists, People Who Won't Cooperate

Do you work with someone who's uncooperative and always complaining? Some personalities are impossible to work or even live with. Find out how you can deal with these kinds of individuals.
How to Deal With Antagonists, People Who Won't Cooperate
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 05 December, 2022

Antagonistic individuals are a hindrance. They’re the kinds of people who see problems and flaws in everything and who are impossible to agree with. In fact, their attitude undermines our spirits and our desire to undertake any task with them. If your partner is antagonistic or you’re forced to work with a colleague with this personality profile, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Many organizational leaders encounter these kinds of problems. They want to lead their projects so that each team member assumes their own assigned tasks and responsibilities. However, there are often individuals who complain to the point of sabotaging projects and undermining team harmony.

When a company hires a worker, it does so for their apparent value and knowledge. But, employers are often forced to deal with and manage hostile behavior that they’re not always prepared for. Of course, they could dismiss them but antagonistic behavior is all too common and can be overpowering.

Can something be done in these cases? Or, should we just accept the fact that those who refuse to cooperate are simply born antagonists and simply can’t change?

The success of a company and of a relationship, whatever the type, always starts from the ability to know how to cooperate and reach agreements.

example of people not cooperating
Stonewalling is a type of aggressive behavior that creates distance and confrontation.

Types of antagonistic people

You know how pleasant it is to get along with others. When this happens, everything flows. In addition, you encounter new ideas, achieve goals, have enriching conversations, and may even increase your productivity.

This can happen, not only in the workplace but in any social setting, like family or romantic relationships. A positive environment always starts from the magical and crucial element of cooperation. However, some people don’t cooperate. To understand these individuals, it’s worth remembering the interpersonal theory of the German psychoanalyst, Karen Horney. According to her model, neuroticism can be expressed in three ways: being compliant and depending on others, showing detachment or running away from people, or being aggressive.

The University of Utah (USA) conducted an investigation to create an inventory for detecting these personality patterns. Dr. Horney’s understanding was that behind those who hinder everything, there usually lies a childhood marked by abandonment, an extremely critical upbringing, and a lack of warmth. There are specific typologies of this kind of personality. In fact, it’s highly likely that you’ll recognize some of their behaviors:

The know it all

Antagonistic people speak out against others because, according to them, they know more than anyone else. They’re individuals who perceive themselves to possess better skills and knowledge than the average person. This level of superiority causes them to despise other people’s ideas or proposals for carrying out tasks.

The drama king or queen

These individuals believe that everything will go wrong. Their antagonism also manifests itself through victimhood. Indeed, it’s common to see these people putting spokes in every wheel and using their complaints as blocking mechanisms. For instance, they commonly use phrases like “You never consider me in your plans”, “You never listen to me” or “Your plan is going to be a disaster”.

The explosive individual

Antagonistic individuals sometimes also display a rather more problematic trait. This is an explosive and unpredictable impulsivity that turns into aggressive responses. They go from calm to angry in a matter of seconds. For example, at one moment you might think they agree with you and the next they go completely against you.

The obstructionist narcissist

Many profiles with antagonistic behaviors show clearly narcissistic personalities. They’re individuals who are extremely skilled at boycotting any progress and any attempt to achieve an objective or favor the union of a working group.

Somehow, their hostile and blocking behavior allows them to achieve a certain dominance over others. In fact, in every scenario, they’re like a virus, making everything sick. They turn off everyone’s motivation and hopes of achieving any goals.

When an employer recognizes an antognistic individual in an organization, they may choose to give them routine and simplistic tasks. Therefore, their behavior is unable to affect the work of others and they’re only permitted to deal with really general tasks.

Working group talking about People who do not cooperate
No work team will be able to achieve a goal if it contains one or more antagonists.

How to handle an antagonist

For any environment, these profiles annihilate harmony and productivity. So what can be done about them?

The answer is simple. Don’t wait for them to change. The only escape is to treat them so that their presence affects you as little as possible.

If an antagonist is detected in a work environment, they shouldn’t be given any leadership positions. They should be relegated to routine and highly standardized tasks that don’t require agreements to be reached with other figures. Here are some useful approaches for dealing with antagonistic individuals:

Listen to them but don’t argue

Arguing with an antagonist or a narcissist is useless. It’s a losing battle. Moreover, it saps your energy and spirit. Instead, you should restrict yourself to listening to their complaints and reasoning without reacting. They only seek to impose their power by creating distances and problems. So, you mustn’t play along with them or fall into their traps.

It’s enough just to listen to them and then do what you consider to be appropriate without losing your calm.

Appear confident and sure of yourself

Avoid faltering, doubting yourself, or getting carried away by the misconduct of an antagonistic person. Make them see that you trust in your abilities and that their criticism, threats, or doubts won’t undermine you.

Trusting yourself means ignoring those who only make empty noise. Being an effective and decisive person means turning a deaf ear to those who only want to see you fail.

Make them see that antagonism has consequences.

Sooner or later, antagonistic individuals have to pay the price for their behavior and attitude. Indeed, as always happens with narcissists or other problem figures, they end up being confronted with isolation and social rejection.

For any organization, team, or relationship to work, we have to know how to live together, reach agreements, and cooperate. This requires intentionality and emotional openness, a firm commitment to others, and a positive attitude.

Antagonistic people who carry the weight of their own frustrations only want to bring the same imbalance and chaos to others. In these cases, it’s best to make them see that, with their attitude, they only have two options: change or walk away. After all, those who antagonize, destroy. It’s worth bearing in mind.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Carlson, S. E., Smith, T. W., Parkhurst, K. A., Tinajero, R., Grove, J. L., Goans, C., Hirai, M., & Ruiz, J. M. (2022). Moving toward, moving against, and moving away: An interpersonal approach to construct validation of the Horney–Coolidge Type Inventory. Journal of Personality Assessment, 104(5), 650–659.
  • Sleep, C. E., Lynam, D. R., & Miller, J. D. (2022). Understanding individuals’ desire for change, perceptions of impairment, benefits, and barriers of change for pathological personality traits. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 13(3), 245–253.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.