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How to Deal with Difficult People

Avoiding difficult people can be, well, difficult, to put it simply. When learning how to deal with difficult people, it doesn’t really matter where you work. At some point, you may have to deal with someone who may cause turmoil or bring up issues in your work environment. It may be a customer; it may be a coworker. It seems no matter what you do, you will encounter a difficult situation with a difficult person.

Difficult people can put a real strain on the general morale and workflow of your job. They tend to bring people down and make them have a lot of negative feelings about coming into work. It may only occur once or twice a week, but that feeling will bleed into every day and make you feel bogged down and tired. This tends to hurt productivity and eventually affect the morale of the whole office.

In this article, we will hopefully leave you with some valuable information on how to deal with a difficult person. We’ll show you how to go about understanding where they may be coming from. We’ll cover the consequences of not addressing difficult people. Lastly, we will leave you with some strategies for disarming or dealing with difficult people.

how to deal with difficult peopleUnderstanding difficult people

First, to try to understand a difficult person, let’s define exactly what that means in the context of the workplace. A difficult person is someone who may consistently exhibit challenging behaviors, attitudes, or interpersonal traits that hinder effective collaboration, disrupt team dynamics, or create a hostile or unproductive work environment. As stated earlier, this could be someone you work with every day, someone you work with once or twice a week, or a specific few customers. A few common traits or behaviors of a difficult person are listed below.

  • Negativity: Consistently focusing on problems while offering no solution or constructive input. Complains often.
  • Stubbornness: a strong refusal to change, even when there is strong evidence supporting the changes. will exhibit an inability to understand alternate points of view.
  • Passive aggressiveness: showing extreme dissatisfaction, resistance, or hostility through indirect backhanded compliments, subtle sarcasm, or nonverbal cues.
  • Micromanagement: Consistently overseeing what people are doing and undermining their authority and competence.
  • Dishonesty: withholding information, gossiping, spreading rumors, or lying about work-related matters. This can often lead to undermining your co-workers by sabotaging their efforts.
  • Refusal to Collaborate: Expressing an unwillingness to work effectively with others
  • Bullying: harassing others with verbal, emotional, or psychological means

Something important to understand is that these traits may not always express themselves consistently. It all depends on the person in question. Sometimes, someone may just be having a really hard time with life outside of work. That negativity can follow them into the workplace and may give someone who’s normally easygoing a completely different attitude for a period of time. In other cases, it may just be the personality of the person. This is where those traits will be considered very consistent. It’s unfortunate that people have that attitude, but that’s why we need to address it.

Consequences of inaction

Approaching difficult people can be a process that you may not want to endure, but it is necessary. Without recourse or some sort of acknowledgement, difficult people will continue to harass those around them. There are many consequences to inaction in these situations. Many, I’m sure you may have seen in a past work place at some point.

Chances are, you will see a decrease in morale throughout your work environment. Employees don’t tend to feel great when they have to be accosted by a difficult person’s negativity. This can lead to a greater turnover rate. Employees may walk away from a job if there is no action to hold a difficult person accountable. A reduction in productivity is likely. If there is constant tension or distraction, it is hard to focus on the tasks at hand.

Eventually, the team dynamic can become strained. A difficult person may undermine trust, cooperation, and communication within your team. In turn, this will make it challenging to get through tasks in an efficient manner. Stress levels will increase with the amount of contact involving the difficult person. Where there is an increase in stress and a lack of action involving said difficult person, conflicts are bound to arise. Minor issues can become larger ones, and this will require more resources to solve.

All of this can lead the company to a very damaged reputation. If people tell their friends about the hostile, difficult work environment, you’re likely not to see many applications coming in to work there. If customers learn of this, they may also choose to take their business elsewhere. That’s why it is paramount to take action and try to resolve a difficult person’s issues sooner rather than later.

Taking Action: How to Deal with Difficult People

We know it is very important to address these types of situations, but they have to be handled with care. Having a plan of action in place can help ease your anxiety and will likely lead to an easier conversation. For this, we will look at the E.A.R. (Empathize, Assert, Redirect) method.

  1. Empathize: Before speaking with a difficult person, take a look at your own emotional intelligence. Try to recognize your own emotions and the way you react to events. Develop a good sense of self-awareness and empathy to have a good idea of how to understand difficult people. Put yourself in their shoes and use active listening skills to understand exactly what the problem is. Reflect on what they have told you and acknowledge it back to them by saying things such as “I can see that you’re currently frustrated by what’s happened.”
  2. Assert: Clearly address your own perspective, needs, or concerns with the individual. Use statements like, “I feel that… or I need…” Do your best to not shift blame or become accusatory towards the individual. Remain calm and collected. Becoming confrontational or defensive can change the tone of the conversation greatly. Make sure you are specific about the exact behavior you find problematic.
  3. Redirect: Once you’ve empathized with the individual and have clearly stated your point of view, try to guide the conversation towards a constructive solution. Ask open-ended questions and try to lead them towards brainstorming a possible alternative. Suggest compromises and emphasize the shared goals you may have. Be sure to set boundaries if the situation calls for it. Address the consequences of further poor behavior, but in a way that isn’t threatening.

Remember to stay patient, even if the person you’re talking with doesn’t. The more calm you are, the better the conversation can go. Have this conversation in a place with minimal distractions. Document any agreements reached during the conversation, and if, for some reason, the difficult behavior continues, reach out to HR or upper management for assistance.

Summary: Maintaining a healthy workplace culture

Difficult people are everywhere. It can be challenging to avoid coming into contact with them, but if we learn how to deal with difficult people before things get out of hand, things won’t escalate. If we handle these situations correctly, issues that arise can be handled with ease.

On top of that, stressing the importance of self-care can also help. When people take care of their mental and physical health, they tend to live happier lives, which may not become difficult at all. Strive to be the company that everyone wants to work for. where it is evident that everyone cares about each other and issues get resolved appropriately. If you can do that, then you will be greatly successful at dealing with difficult people.


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