Blog post,  Business information,  Leadership

Working with difficult people

(aka how to not kill your colleagues)

We all have them. The people you dread going to a meeting with. That guy who you would rather poke your eyes out with a fork than discuss his project. The woman who you know is going to pick a fight with you…just because it’s a Monday.

We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we have been forced to interact with people we find to be “difficult”. Unfortunately, regardless of where you work, they’ll be there. It is part of working life. Over the years, I’ve encountered my fair share of difficult people. Some of them have been staff, some colleagues and others much more senior than me in the organisation.

The challenge, when faced with these people is what you do about it. You may think they are stupid, annoying, rude, crude whatever it may be but how you handle yourself reflects on you and you alone. I am not saying you should be a pushover. You shouldn’t let people get away with bullying you, talking down or belittling you but you’re the only one who can decide how you respond.

As everyone has to deal with difficult people at some point or another, there are some things I have learnt over the years that I thought it may be helpful to share.

Thanks @Monster.com

Take a deep breath.

You are in a meeting, and someone is being completely unreasonable. Stop. Breath. Take a moment before responding (remember respond don’t react!). You will be surprised how much it helps to take a deep breath before responding to someone when you feel under attack. Take a moment to think about how you can respond to this person, how you can create a better outcome from the situation, or at very least how you can walk away with your head held high.

What is my reality?

This is such an important question to ask yourself when faced with a difficult person.

  • What are the facts of the situation?
  • Am I overreacting?
  • Is this really as bad as I think it is?
  • Am I having a bad day?

Before you respond when you feel you’re being treated badly or unfairly consider – is it me? This won’t always be the case but isn’t it a good idea to think it through before you do something you regret later.

Consider the other person.

I know this is hard in the heat of the situation but stop for a second and consider why this person is reacting in this way. Have they had a bad day? Is this the 17th time they have had to have this conversation? Are their kids/dog/parents sick? If this is not the normal behaviour of this person maybe give them a break.

“One of the most powerful ways to reclaim your value, when it feels threatened, is to find a way to appreciate the perspective of the person you feel devalued by. It’s called empathy.”

Know thy self.

Understanding your personality, preferences, and triggers can help you to recognise the types of people and situations that irritate you. What annoys me is not going to be the same thing that annoys you. The more you know what riles you up, means you can prepare for it and handle it better.

I always responded badly when someone criticised my team. It was my trigger. I was very protective of them and would launch back at anyone who had a bad word to say. While I thought these people were the worst, others in the room didn’t, and my reaction impacted my reputation. It took some time and a lot of self-control to stop doing responding to my trigger, but ultimately, I looked like the calmer more considered person.

Take the emotion out of it.

Ok so you have thought through – is it me, is it them, you have taken a deep breath, but it’s still happening.

If you find yourself in a public space and you are under attack my advice is this – take all of the emotion out of it. Present facts, options and solutions. Get to the point, say what you need to say and move the conversation on. If you need to end the meeting, try “thanks I have all I need, let’s talk again later (Not!)”or “thanks I get your point, should we move on to the next agenda item?”. Get what you need to do done and walk away. Regardless, take your feelings out of it.

“It’s not personal. It’s business.”

Tom Hanks, You’ve Got Mail.

Tackle it head on.

It’s a client, someone in your team, a person you need to work with every day. Whoever it is, if their behaviour is making you feel really uncomfortable, you need to say something. For your own well-being you need to raise it with them. You have to talk to them politely and use a real life, recent example – “In the meeting this morning I felt like we weren’t on the same page, can we discuss that?” or “Yesterday on the floor I didn’t appreciate the way you raised your voice at me, perhaps in future we can xxxx”. Don’t be negative, be clear and have a clear outcome you want from the situation. If that doesn’t work, then raise it with your manager or theirs.

A smart woman I know said the other day, “You can’t change d#@*heads, but you can change your reaction to them.” I hope that’s the message you took from this post. You have to work with difficult people every day, but it is what you do about it that really counts.

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