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9 Useful Strategies to Dealing with Difficult People at Work

Get some perspective from others

In all likelihood, your colleagues, managers and friends must have experienced similar situations in some way or another. They will be able to see things from a different angle and offer a different take on the situation. 

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Identifying Difficult People
  • The Perfectionist. If you are looking for quick results, perfectionists can be a source of frustration.
  • Control freaks. When you want to do things your way, overly controlling types can be a source of irritation as well.
  • Creative people. They’re essential if generating ideas is the plan but can cause frustration when you just want to get to delivering a simple result.
  • Shapers: Although shapers may seek to take over as and when they see fit, they can really help drive action.
  • Aggressive or defensive people. Assertion can help move a group forward. Aggression or defensiveness can have the opposite effect on a group’s dynamic.
  • Submissive people. The lack of confidence and fear of failure that many submissive types display can be a source of frustration as well. 
Identifying the Issue

Turn the situation inward and analyze your triggers and reactions to these situations. 

  • How do you react to a difficult person in your life?
  • How does your difficult person react to your reactions?
  • If the other person is the problem, are you growing unhealthy actions and reactions in response to him or her?
  • Are you the difficult person driving others to reactive behavior?
  • How do others react to your actions and responses?
Mitigating These Situations

Separate the facts from your assumptions. 

Separate yourself and your reactions from the negative emotions you may be feeling in the moment. 

Understand the situation

Complaining about a difficult work situation will not make it go away. Try to understand the situation, and find a way to understand and accept your colleagues.

People’s characters are a reflection of their own mental limitations; when people try to hinder us, it is usually a sign their mind is obstructed by their own negativity.

Learn how to accept criticism

Sometimes it can help us identify weaknesses we didn’t know we had.

Analyze it and take what is helpful from it. If you find it is meaningless bitterness, disregard it immediately.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Develop Your Self-awareness
  • Learn to manage your own emotions. 
  • Practice noticing your feelings, thoughts, and behavior--your triggers. Document things as they come up.
When you get good at it, you'll start looking at the whole picture, and both sides of the issue. You begin to tap into your emotions to choose a different outcome, like an assertive response to a difficult person overstepping your boundaries.
Be Assertive and Set Boundaries

An assertive person takes full responsibility for herself and her actions. 

  • Seek self-control, be fair and reasonable, take on the part of the problem that belongs to you, and keep the rest of the problem where it belongs--with the difficult person.
  • Set limits and stand up for yourself so others won't take advantage. 
  • Use "I" statements, not "you" statements (these tend to lead to attack and blame).
Listen
  • Give the difficult person a chance to finish without interrupting. 
  • Ask clarifying questions if confused, and use paraphrasing and mirroring to check the accuracy of hearing.
  • Acknowledge the other person's feelings. So, if the other person is angry, say, "You must be feeling very frustrated..."