Stay Sane: 5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

Aaron Kirkham on Mar 17, 2015 7:00:00 AM

tips for dealing with difficult people

Are you sitting at your desk fuming over the last time you found yourself dealing with difficult people? Maybe it wasn’t even that long ago. Maybe it happened only moments before you sat down to read this, over there by the water cooler.

Everyone can remember a time when they tried to help things go smoothly, but instead their path crossed with someone who just stopped them in their tracks. This person may have been arrogant, degrading, contrary or patronizing, but for whatever reason, they seemed to be trying to make your life harder.

Take a closer look at this encounter and you'll see that it’s not quite as simple as all that. Whether the clash happened due to personality conflicts, differences in work style, or something unknown that was bubbling beneath the surface, there’s a lot more to our daily interactions than meets the eye.

That's not to say dealing with difficult people is easy. It's not. In fact, dealing with difficult people can be the most challenging part of anyone's work day. But with a few pointers, you can improve upon those experiences and protect yourself from unnecessary stress. These five tips will help you stay sane, whether you’re at work or at school.

1. Stay positive

Your attitude determines your destiny. If you can develop a positive attitude despite dealing with difficult people around you, you’ll be ahead of the curve. You'll be able to maintain your mood and your focus, leading to a productive day despite the way others may be acting.

Take a moment to think about why someone might be acting difficult. Did something unusual happen to them at the office? Do they have difficult situations going on in their home life? Are they going through a big personal or professional change?
tips for dealing with difficult people
All of these things can lead people to act differently than they would under normal circumstances. These situations can put people on edge, hike up their stress levels, or bring out their weaknesses. But that doesn’t mean their actions are a reflection on you.

Chances are that their reason for being difficult has little – or nothing at all – to do with you. So, if you can keep your head up and try to spread feelings of happiness and good will, you can have a positive impact on the workplace and you might even play a central role in improving office relationships.  

2. Listen

If staying positive doesn’t do the trick, try listening to your colleague. Take some time out of your day and persuade this person to talk to you, regardless of what it is they choose to talk about.

By the sheer act of listening, you'll give your colleague the chance to share feelings and concerns that are on their mind. This will also give you an opportunity to clear the air or identify the source of the problem. If you take some time to listen to the person who is being difficult, they might just open up and begin to overcome the problem they are facing.
proactive not reactive
Remember that in order to be a good listener, you have to stop talking long enough to let your colleague have your full attention. As you listen to what they have to say, you can try to understand the problem and determine ways that you or someone else might be able to help.

You never know what might come out of this simple gesture of kindness. After all, it could be that the person who was being difficult was really just lonely, or maybe they felt undervalued or under-appreciated. The simple act of giving them your time could change everything.

3. Be proactive, not reactive

As you take time to listen to your colleague, be careful not to be reactive, or worse, to overreact. While this person is sorting through their thoughts aloud, it may seem like they are accusing you of something you did or didn’t do.

That’s likely not the case. Be considerate and gentle in your responses, even when your colleague misspeaks or jumps to conclusions, and let them have the time they need to uncover the real issue.
tips for dealing with difficult people
Once you determine what the problem is, try to take steps to try to resolve it. There may be small things that you can do to help alleviate your colleague's concerns, or you might be able to help this person find the courage to confront the individual or issue that’s bothering them in the first place.

If you just can't think of anything you can do to help, you can ask your colleague if there is anything you can do. If all else fails, it’s okay to admit that you don't know how to help.

Whether you decide to take action or not, move forward with good intentions. Don’t let the conversation become a blame game. Don't get sucked into cycles of negativity. Instead, try to help this person find positive solutions.

4. Pick your battles

Sometimes a difficult person will continue to be difficult no matter what you do. With all the factors that can make a person feel stressed, irritated or angry, this is most likely not your fault.

Try to establish a few criteria that will help you determine if there is any way you can help. If you determine that you’re not in a position to help yet the person will not do anything to help his or herself, it may be time to let it go.
proactive not reactive
Not every person or situation is worth your time. In fact, you may meet people who are determined to find trouble no matter how hard you try to get along, and you may encounter situations that descend into chaos no matter how much you try to prevent that. In these instances, it’s just not worth your time.

Time is money, after all, and even when you are not in a business environment, your time is valuable.

5. Remember they are people too.

In our complex society, it’s possible to forget that colleagues, coworkers, and classmates are not just parts of a system that need to be productive, but they are people too. Sometimes you may encounter people who operate in such a way that you look down on them, or who look down on you because of your differences in opinion or work style.

It’s important to remember that difficult people, no matter what position they hold, are people too. They experience the same failures and successes as everyone else.

Be the best person you can by offering these people respect. By offering them respect, you can help them to realize that you deserve their respect too. The environment will feel better this way, and so will you.

Next time you find yourself dealing with difficult people, use these practices to help you rise above the situation. By being the bigger person, you can better serve these people.

Don’t let difficult people walk all over you, but instead remind them that you are a person too. By using these simple tips for dealing with difficult people, you will not only help yourself to have a better experience with your colleagues, but you will also help others to help themselves.


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