Dealing With Difficult People At Work

Who are difficult people?

We’ve all experienced that moment when a difficult coworker will not stop talking, nor will he or she listen. And, we’ve all sat next to that individual who smells like last night’s bar fight or gym workout.

Difficult people are deemed so because they create a difficult environment for others to conduct their work.

“If you can’t handle and cope with them, they can hurt your productivity and profitability, dampen morale, drain energy, cause stress and simply make life miserable,” writes The Center For Competitive Management.

“You can’t avoid difficult people, and most of the time you can’t change them. But what you can do is learn how to understand them and develop techniques to deal with them effectively. 

When to address them?

Although your colleague may be behaving unprofessionally, you should maintain your professionalism while addressing them. Don’t confront a difficult coworker while you’re angry or emotional.

It’s far more productive to address the situation in an objective state of mind.

Take a day or two to process the event. What do you want to get out of a conversation with this difficult coworker? Better personal hygiene? Less hallway chatter? Quieter phone conversations?

Once you’ve pinpointed the exact problem and a few possible solutions, find a safe and private environment in which to confront your coworker. Be careful not to be aggressive or accusatory.

Why to address them?

Your difficult coworker may not realize he or she is affecting you. And, it’s better to be direct with a first-person complaint than to resort to second-hand remarks or office gossip.

“Constant complaining about the coworker or situation can quickly earn you the title of whiner or complainer. Managers wonder why you are unable to solve your own problems–even if the manager’s tolerance or encouragement of the situation is part of the problem,” advises Susan M. Heathfield in “Rise Above the Fray: How to Deal With Difficult People at Work.”

How to address them? 

“Be pleasant and agreeable as you talk with the other person. They may not be aware of the impact of their words or actions on you. They may be learning about their impact on you for the first time. Or, they may have to consider and confront a pattern in their own interaction with people,” writes Heathfield.

“Worst case? They may know their impact on you and deny it or try to explain it away. Unfortunately, some difficult people just don’t care. During the discussion, attempt to reach agreement about positive and supportive actions going forward.”

If the conversation is not successful, there are more drastic options, such as:

  • Speaking to a supervisor
  • Staging a second conversation or intervention
  • Transferring departments within your company
  • Moving offices
  • Quitting

However, honest and polite communication goes a long way.

Especially for professionals in the field of law, it’s important to use your powers of persuasion and logic to bring about positive changes at your firm.



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