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Working with Difficult People

Let’s face it, difficult people can be found almost everywhere: at the food store, the bank, or even your child’s soccer game. Fortunately, your encounters with challenging people in these situations are often brief and one-time.

Difficult people in the workplace are another matter. At work, you have to encounter the annoying or frustrating colleague or customer time after time. As a result, your interactions can become more challenging, thereby impacting your productivity or happiness at work. Luckily, we have some proven tips to help you deal with the people at work that test your patience the most.

When dealing with a difficult person in the workplace try the following:

1. Split If you are in an encounter with a difficult person, and feel things are escalating, excuse yourself. This will give you, and the other person, the opportunity to regain some control and perspective. Often challenging people enjoy seeing an otherwise composed person “lose their cool.” Don’t give-in to this tactic. Step out of the situation.

2. Pause Work is not like a sitcom where you will get a big laugh for saying something hurtful or offensive. What will happen is you’ll damage your professional reputation. So, before you respond to a comment that is intended to provoke a possibly inappropriate response, pause for a moment. It’s OK to think the comeback in your head, just don’t say it out loud. By pausing you will be both controlling your response and helping to diffuse some tension.

3. Shift Another great technique for dealing with difficult colleagues or clients is to shift or change the topic. If they are focused on a single topic, change the conversation to something else. Sometimes a transition as simple as: “I hear what you are saying about X. Let’s take a minute to also talk about Y” can change the energy and focus of the dialog. It also helps if the alternate topic is something upon which you both can agree.

4. Think Perhaps, the best way to deal with a challenging person at work is to figure out why they are so challenging. If you strip away the emotion you just might get to the heart of the issue. Are they insecure about their position? Facing performance pressure? Feeling unwelcome on the team? In most cases, people are challenging to work with for reasons other than those they discuss or about which they complain. Understanding what motivates their difficult behavior can give you the insight you need to make the relationship more successful. Finding a way to eliminate their pressure points can lead to a more peaceful and productive relationship.

I realize that there are some folks you can’t please or form a close professional bond. But, by using these tips you should be able to easily eliminate some of the stress from your most difficult workplace relationships.