One of the most challenging situations in the workplace is dealing with difficult people. Whether it’s a difficult coworker, boss, customer, or client, dealing with difficult people can be frustrating. As a leader, it is important that you know how to deal with difficult people effectively. You can enhance your ability to deal with difficult people by being aware of the situation, reacting appropriately, and ending the interaction in a positive manner.
Being aware of the situation entails identifying why the person or interaction is difficult. There are many types of difficult people. Here are some that you will recognize:
- Know-it-all – This type of person believes he/she has all the information, including instructions on what you should do.
- I’m Special – This person wants preferential treatment.
- Commander Demander – This type of person demands you handle their situation immediately and they want results now.
- Grim Griper – This type always has something to complain about.
- Pessimist – This person takes a pessimistic or negative view of things.
Identifying which challenges the difficult person presents will help you to keep your emotions in check and properly respond to the situation, therefore helping to keep the negative interaction to a minimum.
The skill of “Being Aware” also pertains to you. Understanding why a person comes across as difficult to you personally is important. Some people get under one person’s skin but not another’s. Knowing yourself can be a first step in diffusing a situation with a difficult person. “Turning the situation inward and analyzing your triggers and reactions to these situations can help you to be prepared and self-aware when they arise,” (Cancialosi, 2019).
One of the phrases I often use when discussing how one should deal with a difficult engagement focuses on the impact of emotions in a disagreement. The phrase is “Feelings just are…They are not right or wrong.” There are so many factors that can go into a person’s demeanor so just accept that the other person is taking a stance and don’t take it personally. “Staying calm and developing your awareness and emotional intelligence skills can help you to manage your reactions to frustrating situations,” (Cancialosi, 2019).
It is important to have a framework in mind when dealing with difficult people. Without a framework, there is a tendency to react rather than respond. Here are four suggestions that can help you manage a conversation or interaction with a difficult person.
- Stay Calm – If you can respond in a calm manner the other person will generally cool off faster. If you cannot remain calm, your emotions may escalate the situation.
- Let them Vent – Generally, he/she will get the emotions out and calm down within minutes.
- Don’t Take it Personal – When people get angry or difficult it often has nothing to do with you personally. If you do not take it personal it is easier to remain neutral to the other person’s behavior.
- Display Professionalism – If you respond in a professional manner personally you will handle yourself better and have more confidence. It may be appropriate to set a boundary by stating that you can listen or assist better if they lower their voice, speak slower or stop some other behavior that is making it difficult for you. You can also excuse yourself for a moment to give the person time to cool off.
On occasion, a situation may escalate and get out of control. When this occurs, always ensure your first priority is to keep yourself and others safe, even if that means walking away from the situation or having the person removed.
As a leader, it is one of your responsibilities to understand and develop the skills to deal with these situations and teach your team how to handle them. Take the time to identify the root cause of the issue, both in terms of the other person and your triggers, mitigate the situation through how you interact with the other person, and find an agreeable resolution, if possible. If you follow these guidelines, you and your team will be well on the way to dealing with difficult people in an effective manner.
Cancialosi, C. (2019, February 11). A Guide To Dealing With Difficult People. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriscancialosi/2018/03/05/a-guide-to-dealing-with-difficult-people/#1e8080b02293.
For the Faith-based:
As Christians, we are called to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-24). However, dealing with difficult people can make this difficult. The book of Proverbs provides much wisdom in dealing with difficult people. Our response to difficult people should model the examples provided by Jesus. We should never treat someone in a way we would not want to be treated. Just because someone may mistreat us, we should not mistreat them in return. We are called to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:43-45) We also need to maintain control of our circumstances and behave as God wants us to no matter what others may be doing. In this circumstance, we can pray and call on the Holy Spirit to give us grace to deal with them. Recall Proverbs 12:16, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.”
If possible, we should try to avoid confrontation as “starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” (Proverbs 14:14) Even Christ walked away from situations that were getting out of hand and at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that the best way to deal with difficult people is through love and humility. (Luke 6:27-31) It’s always good to remember that difficult people are often difficult as a result of their own pain. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) When we show empathy and overcome evil with good, it has the potential to make a lasting impact on those who mistreat us.