We all have high maintenance people in our lives. You know the person…the one who is never satisfied, the one who never stops talking, the one who makes snippy comments, the one who doesn’t follow the process, or the narcissist who is always right. No matter where you work, you’ll have to deal with those who make things harder than they have to be. While it may seem like your life would be better if you didn’t have to deal with people like this, difficult people can actually make things better in an organization.
Humans are designed to solve problems; that’s why we are all so different. We each see the world through our own lens and bring different perspectives to the table. In the workplace, having different and even opposing opinions is critical to good decision making. While it may “feel” better to have peace and harmony, it’s not ideal. Conflict is good if it’s handled appropriately because it forces a team to look at all the possibilities. Conflict should be encouraged and managed.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what about those difficult people who drive you crazy? How can you minimize their impact on you while still gaining the benefits of having different styles on your team? Here are my tips on how to handle yourself when you are ready to pull your hair out.
First Look Within
Always start with yourself. Is the person you find difficult really the problem or are you overreacting? Are you making assumptions or being too sensitive? While it’s easy to blame the other person, you may have a role in the situation. Ask for feedback from a trusted coworker about how you’re perceived when you are dealing with the difficult person. You may be surprised what you learn.
See it From a Different Perspective
Take a walk in the person’s shoes. Try to think like him. What are his motivations and fears? What’s his personality type and how does that show up when he’s stressed? If there is one thing you can do to improve your situation, it’s to try to see it from other people’s perspectives. Doing so will give you insight so you can flex your style to better match his, allowing you to have greater influence over the outcome.
Address it Directly
The best way to resolve issues in the work place is to deal with them directly. First, make sure you are not emotional; you will get the best results when you can be pleasant and agreeable. Ask questions first; always seek to understand before launching into your grievances. You may learn that your perception of the situation is incorrect and you’ll then be able to pivot if necessary. Explain why and how her behavior is negatively impacting you and others. Offer solutions to how she might be able to more effectively work within the team. Yes, it can be intimidating to approach a difficult person to give feedback, but 9 times out of 10, you can make progress by addressing the issue head-on.
Many people lash out and act inappropriately when they feel they aren’t being heard. Sometimes, all it takes to positively affect bad behavior is to listen to them and validate their feelings and concerns.
Pick Your Battles
Some things are not worth being upset about or fighting for. Sometimes the best solution may be to just let go of your annoyance or frustration. How do you do this? Find something positive to appreciate about the person. Remind yourself that he is human and has hopes and fears, just like you. Smile to yourself, and say “how fascinating” when he exhibits poor behavior. Choose to accept the person for who he is and where he is on his journey. Only flight the battles worth fighting.
Don’t Take it Personally
It’s easy to make everything about you. I’m here to tell you that 99% of the time, it’s not, so don’t take it personally. People are not purposefully trying to make your life miserable. Letting yourself become offended or defensive will only escalate the situation and prolong conflict. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is really about whatever is going on with the other person.
Difficult people are challenging but if you practice the above tips, you will be able to keep your cool, respond appropriately, and handle difficulty with grace and compassion. There is always something to be gained in every experience so ask yourself what you can learn and choose to let the situation make you a better communicator, coworker and person.
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