What’s The Secret To Dealing With Difficult People At Work?
Dealing with difficult people at work is inevitable. We would love to avoid it but we just can’t. Why? Simply because it’s very rare for someone to get on with everyone they know.
The consequences can often be far-reaching. They leave us feeling stressed or overwhelmed not only during working hours, but also once we’ve left and gone back to our personal life.
Whether you’re working in an office, school, shop, laboratory or warehouse, if your job involves interaction with people, there are going to be times when it’s challenging. The fact is that people wind us up, most often when they’re not even trying to. They’re just being themselves.
The challenge of dealing with difficult people at work involves different dynamics, intricacies and expectations, so it’s best not to use a ‘one size fits all’ approach. You’ll find difficult people challenging for different reasons. So it makes sense to have a separate plan for each person. That’s why the different approaches I’ll share with you here will help, whatever the root of the problem.
Keep it Cool
The major factor you have in your control in the workplace is your own reaction. If you can maintain self-control and composure you will find it easier to slow down your response and potentially, to diffuse situations. Different people require different approaches. Taking your time and taking stock of your thoughts before reacting allows for better judgement. This is sometimes all you need to avoid an escalation of the problem.
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Picturing yourself detached from the situation, perhaps looking down on it from above, helps you to remove the emotion and as a by-product, reduce friction. Telling yourself that this person is not worth your emotional energy makes it easier to keep a healthy distance and not get dragged into a lengthy dispute. To achieve this you may need to work on building up your Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence. Try seeing your ultimate aim as having a ‘water off a duck’s back’ approach with difficult people. Don’t allow the person to see you wound up or behaving irrationally.
From Reactive to Proactive
It can sometimes help to shift from a reactive to a proactive approach When you’re dealing with difficult people at work. Some people respond better to a more direct approach. By being more proactive in your interaction with them, you are more likely to reduce the chance of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. And that could well be the root cause of your difficulties. Doing something as simple as proactively shifting your body language can lead to a change in how a person interacts with you.
Don’t Take It Personally
Avoid personalising someone else’s behaviour. This isn’t a carte blanche for excusing poor, unkind or bullying behaviour though. Often the behaviour of others says far more about them than it does about you. When we remind ourselves of this, we tend to take the difficult person’s actions less personally. This makes it easier to see their behaviour more objectively. This approach also involves being aware of cultural differences that might be behind someone’s behaviour; it’s not personal; it’s just their way of communicating. This is well worth bearing in mind when dealing with difficult people at work who come from different backgrounds and walks of life to you.
Pick Your Battles
Sometimes, and particularly when you’re trying to deal professionally with difficult people at work, it helps to pick your battles. Don’t get involved unless you have to. Self-discipline comes into the equation here. You may need to do a mental cost-benefit analysis on a workplace relationship. It may be that the negatives of getting involved outweigh the benefits. It might be best to just accept that rocking the boat will be counter-productive. This may be particularly true when the difficult person is a colleague who is more senior to you, or indeed your boss. You’ll need to make a choice in situations like this as to whether you get involved, particularly if dealing with the difficult person relates to doing your job properly.
Separate the Person from the Issue
If you struggle handling difficult people at work it can sometimes be helpful to look at the situation as two separate parts: the persona and the issue. Be soft on the person, hard on the issue. This enables you to manage the difficult relationship whilst achieving what you need from a business point of view. In order to do that you may need to practise some conversation starters in advance such as: “I appreciate how hard you’ve worked on that, we now need to…” or “That’s really helpful information, how do you propose I…”
Bring in the Humour
Many difficult situations can be deflected with a disarming smile or a good dose of well-timed humour. This can make it possible to address a difficult issue without confronting someone into further aggravation. Injecting a little humour is a great way of diffusing a situation in the workplace and bringing people back together. Throwing in the odd ‘dry’ comment can be enough to get everyone back on course and help them to realise they’re working towards the same goal. Importantly, humour doesn’t back people into a corner. In fact, it softens the atmosphere and can give them a way out; this can very helpful for dealing with difficult people at work.
It’s a cliché as old as the hills but bullies pick on those who they perceive to be weaker than them. If you can ‘stand up to them’ and handle their aggression assertively, then you should be able to stop their power over you. It’s OK to walk away, but only if you have nothing important to say. You’ll need to speak up otherwise. So, overcoming your own fear of confrontation is essential when handling difficult people.
So take your pick, have a think about what suits each situation best, and then give it ago when you next find yourself dealing with difficult people at work.
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