6 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People at Work

Work life can get complicated quickly when you’re forced to deal with an unreasonable, hostile or difficult person. It can also turn an otherwise fulfilling job into a nightmare overnight. If a colleague is getting you down, here are a few tips that might help you take control of the situation.

Just keep in mind that if things get really bad, or you face bullying at work, always seek help from your boss or HR. They may be a more effective mediator between you and your coworker than what you can accomplish alone (and you may not be the only one experiencing these issues!).

  1. Keep your composure

The first golden rule is to take control of your emotions. The more composed you are during a challenging conversation, the less impact it (and this person) will have on you over the course of a day. Let unimportant stuff roll off your back – it’s a great coping skill. If anger creeps in, excuse yourself and go outside where you can count to ten (several times) and collect your thoughts. Returning with a calm demeanor just might help the two of you find the common ground you need to move forward.

  1. Be proactive (not reactive)

The key is to become a problem-solver. Step outside your emotions, and look at the issues. If your co-worker spends a lot of time complaining, offer some constructive advice for change. Remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we maintain a cool head and act reasonably, we can look at a situation with detached objectivity. Channel your inner Vulcan spirit!

  1. Establish healthy boundaries

For some people, bullying or being difficult is a power play. Don’t fall for it. Set healthy boundaries that let the person know you’re willing to work and cooperate with them, but that unfair or unreasonable behavior will bring negative consequences. Being blunt with a difficult person takes confidence and effective communication skills, but it’s so worth it in the end.

  1. Pick your battles

There’s no point in becoming combative with people who lose their cool. Remember that most difficult people have redeeming qualities that probably help the company. So, fight the battles that are truly worth fighting. Remember that your goal is to be constructive, not humiliate the other person, so heated public displays of animosity aren’t going to help. Keep it private, keep it neutral and positive.

  1. Keep Documentation

If you do need to involve your manager and/or HR, it’s wise to keep appropriate documentation such as emails and other concrete examples of your experience that will help you make your case.

  1. Set a good example

No matter what’s going on around you, nothing can be gained by panicking or reacting emotionally to a coworker’s actions. By maintaining a positive work ethic you’ll set a good example for everyone around you. If your colleague is stuck on what’s wrong, try redirecting the conversation by asking productive questions.

By the way, thanks for the great turnout to our Seattle and Tacoma events this week. See you in Bellevue for New Tech Eastside next Tuesday night!

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