Twelve tips for dealing with difficult people
We all know that one person who really gives us a problem, don't we? It can be really hard to deal with 'difficult people' and they can have an impact on us out of all proportion to their apparent role in your workplace. I am thinking of adults here, rather than the small person who throws things around in the supermarket - that is for another day.
So thinking about people at work who give you headaches, here are some ways to approach the problem, in no particular order:
Decide who’s really got the problem.
If, for instance, your colleagues are uncomfortable because you’re doing a better job than they are, then they might behave in difficult ways towards you. But it is they who have the problem, not you. This in itself may lead to other difficulties, but it's not starting with you.
Remember that we don’t really know what’s going on in other people's minds.
We may have some theories about the causes of their behaviour, which may be more or less accurate, but we really don't know for certain. And so, we could be wrong. The explanation may be entirely different from what we imagine, and therefore other responses become possible with that knowledge.
In the same way, remember that just as you can’t read their mind, so they can’t read yours.
You might think they will know if you are feeling uncomfortable or uneasy but it is not at all certain that it is obvious to them – especially if they are bound up in their own concerns. So smile, be courteous and friendly as far as you can. All this relates also to assertiveness, simply stating what's on your mind, without emotion or agenda - just so that other people actually know what's happening for you.
Ensure that you are doing your own work to the best of your ability.
Even if it's not the job you really want, make sure you are above reproach and do it as well as you can.
Realise that you can’t do other people’s work for them.
I don’t mean not helping out with tasks and projects at work – this is part of the give and take of working in a team. What I do mean is that if another person is giving you a hard time because of their own insecurity, it is not up to you to pander to this and make them feel better, however sorry for them you may feel. They have to come to the realisation themselves and they are responsible for their own behaviour. Nobody can ‘make’ you feel something.
Be compassionate towards them.
You don’t know why they are behaving like this and they might be at the end of their tether. Think how you would like people to behave towards you.
Be compassionate towards yourself.
If your best friend had a hard time with a colleague and asked you for support and advice, what would you say to them? It may be helpful to say the same things to yourself. Also ensure you have enough sleep, rest, exercise, beauty, food and water so you are in the best shape for whatever life or work throws at you. These things are crucial to well-being.
Keep it in perspective.
Ask yourself, when I look back in three months (or whatever time frame you like) how much will this matter?
Keep a reflective diary (with sufficient security and anonymity). Write down exactly what you perceive the problem to be. Then test its truth value. How sure are you really of your interpretation? Is there any other way you could look at it? Would you stake your life on the truth of your interpretation?
Don’t let yourself be bullied or harassed.
If necessary, use your organisation’s complaints or harassment procedures. Any reputable organisation will have one, and will take its responsibilities to you seriously. If they don't, then you do have legal redress. Organisations like ACAS can be enormously helpful in such situations.
Try to keep a light and humorous heart about things!
Humour and kindness go a long way towards dissolving tension.
Most importantly, there are actually no difficult people. There are only difficult circumstances and more or less effective responses by people. We are all doing the best we can in the circumstances we find ourselves in and we are all in this boat of humanity together, trying to keep afloat.
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About Barbara Bates
Barbara is an experienced and qualified personal and executive coach with a professional background in health, social care and nursing. She works particularly with professional people under pressure to improve resilience, well-being and effectiveness. She also offers Skype/phone sessions, and online coaching programmes, especially about well-being.