Seven Strategies to Effectively Deal with Difficult People at Work
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by Nancy Schnobelen-Imbs
published in ASAP

In a perfect world, we would all get along. There would be no inequalities, no name-calling, no disrespect, no hurt. The Golden Rule would be second nature to us and empathy, compassion, and kindness would reign. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and inevitably we often have the displeasure of interacting with difficult people in the workplace and beyond.

Dealing with difficult people at work can be draining. It also can be frustrating and downright miserable. But it doesn’t have to be. Recognizing behavior that is unbecoming and destructive – and not mirroring it – is the first step in managing the exchange. Taking the high road over adopting the “just-try-to-talk-to-me-that-way buster” will not only put you in the same losing league of difficult professionals, reflecting poorly on your character and professional brand, it will also play havoc with your health. And who needs more stress?

“You can’t control other people’s behavior,
but you can control your responses to it.”

                                                                         ~ Roberta Cava

Leaving your ego at home will do wonders for your career, and wearing your emotional intelligence hat while at work will allow you to respond appropriately to those challenging coworkers. Follow these seven strategies for a comprehensive approach to dealing with those difficult colleagues.

1. Don’t Take It Personally

As difficult as it is, don’t take your coworker’s actions personally. It’s not your fault that he/she is moody, always getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Rather, stay true to yourself. Communicate in a calm, controlled, concise way, not allowing their behavior to get the best of you. You will be a role model and will provide a teaching opportunity for your coworker to learn how to effectively communicate.

2. Develop Rapport

It may sound counterintuitive to develop a relationship with a difficult employee, but this approach is a proven approach. When you take time to get to know someone, his/her workstyle, interests, likes, and dislikes, you’ll have a better understanding of what makes him/her tick. When you make an effort to show concern for your coworker, he/she may turn his behavior around – or at least show you the respect you deserve.

3. Stand Up for Yourself

No one should tolerate poor, inexcusable behavior, ever. We are all entitled to respect. When you experience a situation where you are not shown respect, communicate to him/her in an assertive manner saying, “I’m happy to help assist you with your project needs, but I feel disrespected when you talk to me with such a harsh tone.” By telling that person how you feel, you are also sharing the need for him/her to ultimately be respectful.

4. Practice Empathy

We don’t always know what goes on in fellow coworkers’ lives. Perhaps they’ve been displaying poor actions because they are not getting proper sleep due to caring for their newborn, or maybe they are going through a divorce and the stress of the situation is getting the best of them. Whatever the situation, seeing things from their eyes, listening with their ears, feeling with their heart – and not judging – are effective ways to practice empathy. You don’t have to agree with the way they are handling matters, but by developing your empathy skills, you may understand why he/she is behaving in a difficult way.

5. Practice Self-regulation

As difficult as it is, refrain from losing your cool. Follow the proverb, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” In other words, because an employee spoke to you with disrespect, said something in gossip about you, or did something else unjust, are not reasons or justification for acting similarly. Take the high road and let them know in a composed, controlled way that you do not appreciate him/her spreading rumors about you at the office water cooler. You might also mention that if she/her has any questions to feel free to come to you first. That should nip the unattractive behavior in the bud all the while letting your professionalism shine and not stooping down to unbecoming actions.

6. Hone Your Self-awareness

Exhibiting high self-awareness in the business setting is a top leadership skill no matter what stage you are in your career. With self-awareness, you know your strengths and challenges. You are aware of your emotions and how they affect you. You are also adept in dealing with other’s emotions, having the skill to manage your behavior appropriately for a positive result. When you possess strong self-awareness, you can effortlessly manage any challenging situation with poise and skill.

7. Get Support

There may be times when you’ve tried everything in your power to diffuse a tough situation to no avail. If that’s the case, you may need extra support to help manage the future interactions. Talking to a trusted coworker and asking them for their insight may be helpful. You might want to consider talking to your supervisor or even someone in HR explaining your desire to be a team player but are having difficulties with an employee. Ensure them you don’t want to create any problems; you simply want to continue do good work and work in harmony with others. Chances are they may be already aware of this particularly challenging employee and want to help you succeed in your job.