Dealing with Difficult People

Have you ever had one of those super difficult, refuses-to-agree-on-principle, know-everything kind of people cross your path? They seem to be popping up all over the place in my professional life lately. I understand that there is inevitably at least one person at the office that drives you nuts – and difficult clients aren’t exactly a rarity – so who am I to expect peace all the time? I realize that’s unrealistic. However, I refuse to believe that either coworkers or clients should have the ability to make life miserable on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time. It just doesn’t make for a happy life. For this and a few other reasons, I’m currently looking into new career options, but I’m going to leave that for a different post. Today, I want to talk about how to deal with difficult people in the work place. I do this in hopes of reminding myself that it can be done and also for any of you my dear readers who are likewise dealing with difficult people in your life.

I’ve done quite a bit of research into various methods of dealing with difficult people (especially on the worst days), and the general consensus seems to recommend some version of the following:

  • Keep Calm. It’s hard not to go with the immediate knee-jerk reaction when we feel attacked in some way. Even if I don’t necessarily say what I’m thinking, I’m pretty sure my face usually does. I’m not normally quick to anger, but over a prolonged period of time those feelings do tend to build up and simmer. The thing about simmering is that it’s not that far from a boil – it only takes a little heat to burn the dish. I do my best to just walk away when I’m particularly annoyed about something. I go out to lunch, run an errand, walk around the building, cry in the bathroom, whatever it takes to get the immediate emotions out of the way so that I can think rationally and handle the situation more calmly. It’s certainly not easy, but luckily I simmer down pretty quickly if (and this is key) I’m allowed the necessary time to do so.
  • Don’t ignore the person. This is one of the most difficult things for me to do. I tend to ignore and/or avoid problem people at all costs. I just don’t see the need to keep unnecessary drama in my daily routine. That said, I’ve now reached a point with two separate people where interaction is inevitable. The “experts” say that ignoring difficult people tends to make them worse, as they feel they have to act out even more to find the attention/justification that they seek. Dealing with an unavoidable issue head on also ensures that tensions aren’t left to build up and explode at an inopportune moment (which makes that whole keep calm thing that much harder).Benjamin Franklin
  • Listen. If you have to deal with someone, listening is usually the best first step. Often there is a reason that difficult people act the way they do, whether it’s something in their personal life or professional stress. Actively listening to their concerns (justified or not) with a calm and open mind can give invaluable perspective into the person and the best method for dealing with a problem situation. Active listening means that you are actually listening to the other person and not plotting your response the entire time they are speaking. Let the other person get it all out. Then begin your response by giving your summation of their thoughts – “so what I heard you say is that you feel/think/believe/etc…” This lets the other person know that you have heard them and that you consider what you are about to say relevant to their feelings. Sometimes being heard is really all it takes to make everyone feel better.
  • Don’t stay silent and don’t agree just to appease. I am a people pleaser. I quickly learned growing up that if I just told the other person what they wanted to hear, I could still do whatever I wanted anyway. I’m not saying this is right, it was just a habit. Sometimes I still fall into this habit in order to avoid the conflict – especially if it’s an issue I don’t feel worthy of confrontation. I also use silence as a tool to annoy those that annoy me. Difficult people tend to also be vocal people who crave a response. I’ve found that silence often annoys people more than anything you can say to them. Sometimes, depending on the situation, this is a valid and useful tactic. Most of the time, however, it doesn’t move the issue towards any kind of resolution. You are entitled to an opinion just the same as any other person involved in the situation. Remaining silent or agreeing just to avoid conflict allows resentments to grow, which will still have to be dealt with later. Better that everyone knows where you truly stand on the issue (stated in a calm and respectful argument) so that compromise can be found sooner than later.Quote
  • Problem solving. One of my pet peeves is the “blamers.” You know, those people that want to blame whatever on whomever and just won’t let it go? If I make a mistake, I am the first one to apologize. Everyone makes mistakes. If something goes awry, I want the responsible person(s) to assess the situation, own up to the mistake, apologize, and then help me fix it. I take no satisfaction in making someone feel bad about an honest mistake. If they can recognize the mistake and assist in fixing it, chances are they’ll learn from it – and isn’t that really the point? Forcing me to continuously apologize for something by repeated reminders only makes me feel untrusted and resentful. Not happy feelings. I make a concerted effort to keep this in mind as a supervisor, so it makes it especially hard for me to respect people who can’t do the same.
  • Pick your battles. This is perhaps the hardest piece of advice to master. What I consider a big deal may not even be on someone else’s radar and vice versa. Taking time out of my day to deal with something I don’t consider a big deal is not easy for me, especially if the other person is more interested in blaming than problem solving. I likewise have to assess my level of annoyance to determine whether I want to address something I feel is a big deal where the other person might not agree. It all goes back to the very first bullet – keep calm. Usually if I can escape long enough to clear my head, I have a good idea of whether or not the battle is worthwhile. Sometimes even when I feel it is, I can clear my mind enough to see that dealing with it later once everyone has had time to gather perspective is the better way to go. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s definitely necessary.

John Steinbeck quote

Great words of wisdom, right? I hope I can reread my words on the particularly bad days (and especially in the next couple of weeks) and remember to take my own advice!

What about you – do you have a difficult person in your life? How do you deal with them? Tips & Tricks are always welcome!! (smile)

3 thoughts on “Dealing with Difficult People

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