Dealing with difficult people at work

by ltconsulting on September 27, 2011

Our dealing with difficult people courses are one of our popular courses as it effectively demonstrates how to neutralise problem situations in the workplace. It covers a wide range of scenarios that occur in the workplace such as; working with aggressive people, disagreeing with others, handling bullies at work, dealing with ignorant people at work and working with unreasonable people. This course will cover mediation and will show delegates how valuable managing and mediating conflict is when managing or handling difficult staff/employee(s). The dealing with difficult people at work course also provides useful information for working with a difficult boss/manager and guidance on how to deal with bullying in the workplace.

Dealing with difficult people at work

Difficult people do unfortunately exist at work as in every other walk of life. It is rare to find a workplace without them. Depending on your level of self-esteem, dealing with a difficult person at work can be debilatating and stressful.

Dealing with a ‘difficult’ person is easier when the person is generally obnoxious or when the behaviour affects more than one person, as you have safety in the knowledge that it is not a personal attack. It is a much more complex scenario dealing with a difficult person when they are attacking you or undermining your professional contribution and dealing with them is dependant on your self-confidence and your professional courage.

Difficult people come in various guises

Some talk constantly and rarely, if ever, listen. Others must always have the last word. Some co-workers fail to keep commitments which impacts upon others and can cause friction. Others may criticise anything that they did not create. Difficult co-workers compete with you for power and privilege; some go too far in encouraging and creating a positive opinion for the boss – to your diminishment.

Difficult people and situations exist in all work places, in many different guises, they do however, all have one thing in common, in that they, or the situation must be addressed. Regardless of the type of difficult situation in which you find yourself, dealing with difficult people or situations is a must.

Dealing with the difficult co-worker

I’ve experienced workplaces in which all sorts of dysfunctional approaches to dealing with a difficult co-worker have been tried. Putting an anonymous note in the person’s mailbox is not an option. Placing a can of deodorant on a hygiene-challenged co-worker’s desk is not a productive option either. Confronting the bully publicly can often lead to disaster. Putting dead bugs in his desk drawer can leave your boss no option other than to fire you. So, let’s look at more productive ways to address your difficult co-worker.

Are you convinced that in almost all cases you need to productively deal with your difficult co-worker?

Here are 5 ways of dealing with that difficult person at work:

1.   Always begin by examining yourself in determining whether the object of your attention, i.e. the difficult person or situation, really is the result of their action.

Could you be over-reacting to that difficult person? Are you being overly sensitive to remarks? Have you got previous experience of similiar people? or, have you always experienced difficulty with the same type of person or situation? Is there a pattern in your history interaction with co-workers, i.e. do you generally get on well with all? Do you recognise that you have ‘hot buttons’ that are easily pushed, thus causing reaction?

2.  Discuss your situation with a trusted friend or ideally, a colleague.

Consider various ways of addressing the situation (or person). When you are the object of an attack, or your boss appears to support the dysfunctional actions of a co-worker, it is often difficult to objectively assess your options. Anger, pain, humiliation, fear and concern about making the situation worse are legitimate emotions.

Pay attention to the unspoken agreement you create when you solicit another’s assistance. You are committing to act unless you agree actions will only hurt the situation. Otherwise, you risk becoming a whiner or complainer in the eyes of your colleague.

3.  Approach the person with whom you are having the problem for a private discussion.

Talk to them about what you are experiencing in “I” messages. (Using “I” messages is a communication approach that focuses on your experience of the situation rather than on attacking or accusing the other person.) You can also explain to your co-worker the impact of their actions on you.

Be pleasant and agreeable as you talk with the other person. They may not be aware of the impact of their words or actions on you. They may be learning about their impact on you for the first time. Or, they may have to consider and confront a pattern in their own interaction with people. Worst case? They may know their impact on you and deny it or try to explain it away. Unfortunately, some difficult people just don’t care. During the discussion, attempt to reach agreement about positive and supportive actions going forward.

4.  Follow up after the initial discussion. Has the behaviour changed?  Gotten better?  Or worse?

Determine whether a follow-up discussion is needed. Determine whether a follow-up discussion will have any impact. Decide if you want to continue to confront the difficult person by yourself. Become a peacemaker. (Decide how badly you want to make peace with the other person and how much you want your current job. Determine whether you have experienced a pattern of support from your boss.) If you answer, “yes,” to these questions, hold another discussion. If not, escalate and move to the next idea.

5.  You can confront your difficult co-worker’s behaviour publicly.

Deal with the person with gentle humour or slight sarcasm. Or, make an exaggerated physical gesture – no, not that one – such as a salute or place your hand over your heart to indicate a serious wounding.

You can also tell the difficult person that you’d like them to consider important history in their decision making or similar words expressed positively, depending on the subject. Direct confrontation does work well for some people in some situations. I don’t think it works to ask the person to stop doing what they’re doing, publicly, but you can employ more positive confrontational tactics. Their success for you will depend on your ability to pull them off. Each of us is not spur-of-the-moment funny, but if you are, you can use the humour well with difficult co-workers.

Delegates who attend our Dealing With Difficult People training courses will:

Other related courses include assertiveness skills, mediation skills, negotiation skills and communication skills for managers. Click here if you need more information regarding Dealing With Difficult People training courses or contact Total Success who will be delighted to talk to you via e-mail.

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