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8 Strategies To Deal With Difficult People At Work

By Mike McClement

"When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion." ~ Dale Carnegie


You work in a place where everyone is super-nice. No one ever gets on your nerves. No one ever frustrates you. You don't find anyone annoying or frustrating. You don't find anyone 'difficult'.

The truth is you're lucky, very lucky and very unusual too. It's rare to get on well with everyone.

Dealing with people you find difficult is never easy. The fall-out can be far-reaching.

There was a time when I used to dread Sunday nights. For nearly two years of my life they meant absolutely no sleep. The thought of going to work filled me with dread.

I actually enjoyed my job but there was one particular person who I struggled to get on with.

This person talked over me every time I had something constructive to say. He would never look me in the eye. I felt as though he was trying to undermine me. I avoided working with him and, as a result, I become alienated from the team.

The consequence? I left my job, a job I really enjoyed.

Wherever you work, if your job involves interaction with people there are going to be times when it's challenging. The fact is that some people wind us up, even though they might not even be trying to. Often, they don't even know they're doing it.

Whatever the root of the problem, here are 8 tips that will stand you in good stead:

#1 – Keep your cool
You have complete control of your own reaction. If you can keep your self-control and composure, you'll find it easier to respond calmly and diffuse the situation before it gets out of hand. Taking your time and taking stock before reacting makes for better judgement. Sometimes, this is all it takes to avoid an escalation of the problem.

#2 – Stay detached
Picture yourself detached from the situation. See yourself looking down on it from above. Tell yourself that this person is not worth your emotional energy. Try to keep a healthy distance. Don't get dragged into a lengthy dispute. Have a pact with yourself; don't allow the person to see you wound up or behaving irrationally.

#3 – Be proactive not reactive
Consciously shift from a reactive to a proactive style. Some people respond better to being approached in a more direct way. Being more proactive in the way you communicate may reduce the chance of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. You may find that a mis-match of communication styles was actually the root cause of the problem.

#4 – Remove the emotion
Try not to take the person's behavior personally. This helps put your reactions in proportion. Often the behavior of others says far more about them than it does about you. Remind yourself of this when the heat is on. You'll find it easier not to take the difficult person's actions personally.

#5 – Pick your battles
Don't get involved unless you have to. That takes self-discipline. Sometimes it's best to accept that rocking the boat will be counter-productive. This may be particularly true when the difficult person is a colleague more senior to you, perhaps your boss. You'll need to make a choice in situations like this as to whether you get involved. If you can't do your job properly without dealing with the difficult person, you have no choice. If not, it may be best just to stay clear.

#6 – Separate the person from the issue
Try to balance 'managing' the difficult relationship with achieving what you need from a business point of view. Think carefully about how you will raise the issue and the kind of language you will use. It helps to practice some conversation starters beforehand such as: "I appreciate how hard you've worked on that, now we need to…" or "That's really helpful information, how do you propose I…"

#7 – Inject humor
A disarming smile or a good dose of well-timed humor can literally act as a magic potion. Injecting a little humor is a great way of diffusing a situation quickly. Throwing in the odd 'dry' comment can be enough to get everyone back on course. Humor doesn't back people into a corner. It can soften the atmosphere and can give people a way out.

#8 – Stand up to bullies
We all know bullies pick on those who they perceive to be weaker. You'll need to try to stand up to bullies rather than avoid them. It is essential to overcome any fear of confrontation. Make a conscious effort to act assertively and speak up.

So don't find yourself losing sleep because of a difficult person. Use these 8 tips to help you feel more confident when you next come against one.

I'd love to know how you get on with them. Real examples would be great.

Mike McClement is Founder of Think Confidence, a self-confidence author and coach. Passionate about helping people achieve their potential and enjoys life to the full. Writes about all aspects of self-improvement and self-esteem, including the book: Brilliant Self-Confidence, Pearson Education, 2014. Find out more at his Website, Blog, and Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

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