Do you have to deal with difficult people at work?
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Do you have to deal with difficult people at work?

It is inevitable that there will be times when we have to deal with difficult people at work. In an ideal world, we would avoid this but we know that this simply is not possible. This is because it is highly unlikely that we can get on with everyone that we know.

As a result, dealing with difficult people can cause us to feel very stressed and this doesn’t stop when we leave the workplace. This can affect our personal life too.

It is very challenging trying to find a way to deal with difficult people as ‘one size does not fit all’. That’s why it is useful to identify individual strategies for each situation and person. To help you to do this, we have identified several different approaches for you to try.

Keep Calm

The one thing you CAN control when facing difficult situations is your own reaction. By being calm and maintaining your composure and self-control you will find it easier to think. Give yourself time to breathe and slow down your response. This should allow you to judge the situation more effectively and could be the way to prevent the problem from escalating.

Detach yourself

Imagine this situation had nothing to do with you – this will help you to detach yourself emotionally and this should help to reduce the tension. Become your own counsellor; ask yourself ‘is this person really worth your emotional energy’. Avoid getting bogged down in the dispute and maintain a healthy distance if you can. You may have heard others refer to this as ‘water of a duck’s back’. This does require you working on becoming more resilient to situations such as dealing with difficult people.

It’s not about you!

Tell yourself that this person is not being difficult because they don’t like you. That said, if you are being bullied or harassed, that IS different and you should follow your company’s policies for dealing with that. The way other people behave says more about them than it does about us and if we can keep telling ourselves this, it reduces the chances of us taking it personally. We must also realise that we are all different. For example, people from different cultures may behave differently and if we educate ourselves about our colleagues’ different culture, this could help us to understand their behaviour and see it just as different behaviour rather than difficult behaviour.

Is it worth it?

Do you really need to get involved? There is a well known saying about ‘picking your battles’ so don’t get involved unless you really have to. This does require a lot of self-discipline and you will need to decide if this will also affect your relationship with the other person. It could be a wise move to accept that ‘rocking the boat’ will do more harm than good. For example, if the difficult person is your manager!

Be Proactive rather than Reactive

Wouldn’t it be better all-round if we could avoid difficult situations altogether? If we are more proactive when interacting with people, this could reduce the chance of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. It could be as simple as being mindful of the body language that you are exhibiting. If you change this, you could change the way that the other person will interact with you.

Separate the Person from the Issue

Try looking at the situation as two separate parts: the individual and the issue. Go gently on the person, but tackle the issue hard. Doing this will enable you to manage the relationship but at the same time you will get what you need from a business perspective. This can be quite challenging to do and it would be useful to practice how you might do this. Practice some conversation starters in advance such as: “I appreciate the effort you have put in this, we now need to…” or “That’s really useful, how do you suggest that I…”

Tackle Bullies

Bullies only pick on people who they believe are weaker than them. By being assertive and standing up to them you are removing their power over you. If you can’t just walk away, speak up for yourself. When the bully sees that you are not intimidated, they will often back down. Most people dislike confrontation but in order to handle difficult people, you will need to overcome this fear.

Laughter is the best medicine!

Have you ever noticed how some people are able to diffuse a difficult situation with a disarming smile or some well-timed humour? By injecting a little humour, we can calm the situation. It can often be enough to get everyone back on track and help them to realise that they are all working towards the same goal. An important point to note is that using humour can relax the mood in the room and can often give people a way out rather than backing them into a corner (where they may be tempted to come out fighting!).

I hope you have found this list useful. Next time you deal with a difficult person, look at the list and choose the action that you think might best suit the situation and give it a try!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this article and would like to find out more, why not join us on the Level 3 Award in Education and Training which covers this and many other related topics?

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