4 Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People

It’s an unfortunate but proven fact: life is full of difficult people. Folks who get under your skin, routinely, in an ongoing, thoroughly frustrating way. Another disheartening fact is that no workplace completely escapes the malady of difficult people or challenging personalities. If you claim to work in a difficult-free zone, we’ll wager you work in a solo operation. And even then, the chances are that you irritate yourself, every now and again.

Difficult personalities come with the territory of doing life with other human beings. Whether it’s a Negative Nelly, Too-Talkative-Tom, Whiny Winston, or Always-Behind-Bernie, challenging people can make your workplace-life stressful and even miserable.

But it does not have to be that way (the miserable part). Just as you can count on difficult people being part of your work-a-day world, you can also choose to deal with the situation in a confident, direct way.

“But what do I do about Nelly, Tom, Winston, and Bernie?”

The key to keeping your sanity—and your job—is to do something rather than nothing. Pretending the situation does not exist, will not help. An “ignorance is bliss” approach will cause stress to escalate, impacting your level of job satisfaction, engagement, and productivity, all of which may push you to leave a position you would otherwise choose to keep.

Before that happens, let’s examine some strategies for dealing with difficult people and personalities.

Start by examining yourself

While finger-pointing can be an easy go-to when personalities clash, mature adults will recognize the need to look inward. Tug into place your honesty cap before answering questions such as—

  1. Could I be overreacting?
  2. Are my “hot buttons” too many or too easily triggered?
  3. Has a similar scenario occurred in the past?
  4. How much am I contributing to the problem?

Choose to rise above the situation 

While you cannot control the other person’s behavior, you can, in no small degree, control your response. Instead of seething on a mounting heap of anger and resentment or reacting with an emotional outburst, choose how you will respond. Decide that the minor irritations will no longer elicit a reaction from you, either outwardly or internally. Choose to let them roll off your back. Walk away or in some other way, distance yourself from the person and the situation whenever possible. Rise above by accepting that you are only responsible for yourself.

Monitor your mental dialogue

Being treated unfairly is the pits. So, do not make the situation even worse with a constant, mental rehashing of the disheartening situation, conversations with the difficult person, or that one truly galling encounter. Why pollute time away from the irritation and drama with a constant replay that will only serve to intensify your feelings and make it much more challenging to move past it.

Establish boundaries

Here is where many people fail to assert themselves and gain a measure of control over the situation. Lunch at a different table or at an alternate time. Limit one-on-one interactions with the difficult person. Align yourself more closely with team members with whom you share a better relationship. Do not volunteer to assist or mentor or partner with the agitator. This exercise in seizing what control is within your grasp will bolster your ability to deal with Nelly, Tom, Winston, or Bernie when it cannot be avoided.

Utilize these strategies to chip away at the power you allow difficult people to hold over you. Before long, you will find yourself much calmer and more relaxed. You might even feel a tidbit of pity for these difficult people and the misery they create in their lives.

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