Working with a difficult person can make you miserable! No one wants to be miserable at work- at least I don’t- and if you’re reading this article I imagine you don’t want to be miserable, either.
Years ago I found myself miserable at work. I worked with the most difficult person I’ve ever met, and what was formerly a job and company I loved. I was so worn out and frustrated that I wanted to quit my job on the spot. I muddled through several horrible months at work and until the difficult co-worker quit before I did.
After she quit, I had time to reflect on the experience and my part in the problem; and it truly had become my problem. Although I wasn’t the person causing the problem, I was working with it every day.
I learned a lot from my experience and I continue to carefully observe difficult people, and notice when others manage themselves effectively in an unmanageable situation.
So how to do you deal with that annoying, passive-aggressive, whiny, hostile, negative or martyred colleague?
In my experience there is very little you can do to effect change in other people; you can only hope to manage your own experience, thoughts and actions. Ultimately managing your relationship with difficult people is up to you.
Respond, don’t react.
When you react you are accepting responsibility for someone else’s thoughts, behavior or actions. Once you have taken ownership of another’s judgements, you may carry that with you for days, months or even years.
Take a deep breath, and allow yourself a moment to respond. When you respond, you take ownership of your own thoughts, behavior and actions. You reply from your perspective and experience. It is not necessary to agree to deny someone else’s position, instead you share your own.
Respond with compassion.
Most people are on their worst behavior when they are suffering. Perhaps they are dealing with a loss in their personal lives, or they are struggling with an unseen illness. Maybe they lack appropriate social skills and are stumbling through their life as best they can.
Being able to view a difficult person with kindness will help balance your perspective. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to see others only for their worst qualities, and the situation may appear worse than it is.
Responding to difficult people with compassion will benefit you as much as it benefits the other person. Think of one good quality in that person and hold onto that thought when you respond.
You don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior, and you can still choose to treat others as you’d want to be treated on your worst day, and your best.
You may be able to avoid future conflict with difficult people practicing clear communication. Use clarifying questions to ask for specifics or examples.
A useful communication tool is to repeat what the other person said to ensure you understood. Ask follow up questions. Agree on next steps, and put it in writing.
Being clear and documenting your communication with a difficult person can also help you maintain your credibility if you are dealing with a manipulative and dishonest colleague.
Choose not to engage.
You do not have to attend every argument you are invited to. You can politely decline the invitation to engage in gossip, argument, and complaints.
You have the option to remove yourself from a heated discussion. Instead, choose to excuse yourself if a difficult person tries to engage you in an argument, and come back the discussion later. If the difficult person doesn’t seem able to have a calm, professional discussion, you may request to discuss the issue at hand with your supervisor or HR representative present.
You can choose not to participate in gossip and complaints by saying, “I’m not comfortable discussing this.”, or “That situation sounds really difficult. I hope you work it out.” and opting not to engage further.
Take care of you.
Dealing with difficult people is stressful, and in times of stress it is essential to attend to your mental, emotional and physical health.
Take a deep breath, go for a walk, get a good night’s sleep, take breaks, eat delicious and nutritious food.
HALT when you notice you are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or hurt, anxious, lost or tense. Make taking care of you a priority!
Effectively managing yourself and your behavior when dealing with difficult people can improve your quality of life in a truly difficult situation. By applying these tools you may also maintain your reputation and credibility, and build valuable relationship and leadership skills.
I love your comments! Have you ever worked with a difficult person? How did you manage the relationship? What was the result?