written by: Mike Sweeney•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/13/2011
How do you handle difficult people? This article looks at the importance of creating a consistent way to deal with the myriad of personalities and behaviors that are difficult to work with in any organization. This proven strategy works with all types of difficult people in the workplace.
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Recognize the Behavior
Dealing with a single difficult person is hard enough for most people. Compound that hardship by having to deal with a variety of difficult people, all of whom are troublesome for different reasons. So what’s the answer? Well, there is no single easy answer. There is, however, a way to use your skills to help manage the process. The first step is to accurately recognize what’s going on with the difficult person. Is he blaming you or others for something? Is he unwilling to share information? Does he have a negative outlook on a project or has he been spreading rumors and gossip? Is he being rude and derogatory, or maybe even disrespectful?
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Communicate What You See
Once you feel you have recognized the behavior and the difficulty that is being presented–blaming, complaining, anger, etc.--you can then use your observation skills to be sure you are reading the situation accurately. Your biggest challenge at this point is to communicate in a way that is non-judgmental and doesn’t match the negativity or negative emotion you are observing. This is generally much easier said than done. It’s very common to personalize the situation, and, depending on what you’re faced with, it’s not unusual to match the negative emotion with your own negative behaviors. So, be careful in how you approach the difficult person. His strength lies in the ability to pull others into his behavior–so resist the temptation. Make a concerted effort to maintain your poise and control how you initially communicate your observations and any immediate responses.
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Listen with Empathy
Listening with empathy is one of the most effective ways to deal with all types of difficult people in the workplace. It doesn’t mean you agree with the person's behaviors, it just means you are willing to listen to her point of view with sincerity and respect. If she's complaining about something, it doesn’t mean you need to be sympathetic. It means you are willing to understand her line of thinking or feelings without being judgmental. Listening with empathy earns you the right to present your point of view after carefully listening to the other person’s. With good communication skills, and listening with empathy, you can deal with all kinds of challenging coworkers you meet on the job.
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Set a Standard
Once difficult people in the workplace see that are confident in your interactions with them, they will begin to interact with you differently. Minor items like complaints about the company, rumors about other employees, and other workplace situations that are brought up by difficult people won’t even surface. Your confident and skilled demeanor will limit the amount of unwanted workplace distractions. For the more serious or valid negative concerns, use your skill sets to keep the interaction focused and moving in the direction you want it to. It’s a way to maintain control of your work space and not allow difficult people to manage your day.
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Pelusi, Nando. Dealing with Difficult People, Psychology Today. Retrieved at http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200609/dealing-difficult-people