“When dealing with difficult people, remember not to become one yourself.”

So, how to deal with difficult people at work constructively?

The first step is to ask yourself what makes a person difficult. A difficult person is someone who lacks empathy and concern for others. People in the dark triad bunch are notoriously known to be difficult. They can make your workday hell.

Bullies, gossip-mongers, and passive-aggressives can cast a shadow over a productive office. 

Sometimes, difficult people are not so easy to recognize. A situation can make a person difficult. Someone who refuses to budge an inch from their stance or opinion can create a miserable workplace atmosphere. Moreover, someone else may think you are a difficult person yourself.

It is easy to qualify a demanding client as difficult when the solution lies in the fact that a specific client is not in your target audience. 

Everyone makes mistakes and displays a behavior that can be defined as difficult by others. 

A person is usually considered difficult when repetitive poor behavior becomes a part of their character. 

How to Deal with Difficult Coworkers from the Dark Triad

The best way to deal with people who are callous, manipulative, rude, and negligent risk-takers is disengagement.
Luckily, you won’t have to deal with those difficult people at work at all, or at least not to a great extent, if you have solid work processes and a trustworthy team.
In situations in which you’ve slipped and had to deal with such a difficult person, cutting ties and losses is sometimes the best and the only way to move forward.  

Watch the video from the Flash Hub #AsktheCEO series to learn more:

The Less Visible Difficult People at Work

It is always more effective to develop creative ways to deal with a myriad of difficult colleagues than to waste time by characterizing someone as “difficult”.

But you may come across people at work who display the following behaviors, and have to deal with them at one point:  

  • Uncompromising. Inflexible people who aren’t willing to make concessions for others, or change their opinions or ways are considered uncompromising. While being tough and determined is often a desirable trait, it can create a mess on a team when someone always insists on doing things their way.
  • Easily frustrated. Frustration usually occurs when people feel stuck or unable to make progress due to internal (lack of awareness) or external (a chaotic boss) factors.
  • Poor listeners. Poor listeners communicate in a way that creates assumptions and misunderstandings. They can weaken team cohesion and shatter team trust.
  • Argumentative. People who find faults with many things, are self-absorbed, and disagree with everything are difficult to work with because they drain team energy resources.
  • Complainers. A complainer is a person who focuses on the problems instead of on solutions. Being a complainer destroys self-empowerment as it prevents people from taking action that could alter things or circumstances that were perceived as the reason for complaining in the first place.
  • Lone wolfs. Spending time alone has its benefits. However, the pain from social exclusion, whether it is self-imposed or created by the company culture, is similar to physical pain. Isolation is detrimental to good team collaboration and cohesion.
  • Dog-eat-dogs. Overly competitive workers are poor team players. 
  • Avoidants. Avoiding responsibility at work means giving away the power to grow.
  • Attention-seekers. Craving attention makes people suggestible and dramatic and limits their ability to make good decisions for themselves and the team.
  • Grudge-holders. Holding grudges damages work relationships especially when lingering issues are left without addressing them long after they happened. 

Everyone can be one of these persons occasionally. The problem is when people are difficult and unreasonable at the same time. 

Listen to the Virtual Frontier Podcast to learn more:

How to Handle Difficult Behaviors Like an Expert

Here are some effective tactics you can apply to deal with your difficult coworkers: 

1. Listen. 

Everyone wants to be heard and acknowledged. Try not to interrupt and be patient to truly hear where is the other person coming from. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next.

2. Remain calm. 

Breathing helps with managing an overly emotional response in tense situations.  

3. Search for the hidden need. 

Difficult behavior is usually a coverup for an unmet need. Try to find out the deeper reason behind someone’s obnoxious actions. 

4. Don’t downplay their feelings. 

Expressions such as “calm down” and “it’s nothing” are unhelpful and can worsen the difficult situation.  

5. Ask questions. 

Instead of evaluating and judging the situation, be curious to learn more.

6. Don’t reciprocate negative behaviors. 

Easier said than done, but try to keep away from reacting with anger to an angry person. Don’t mock or act with contempt. Show respect, calmness, and dignity. 

7. Create space. 

Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Space between yourself and the other person is a safe container to respond to it. A response is an emotionally mature behavior. A reaction is a stress-driven behavior. 

8. Don’t be defensive. 

Taking criticism with a grain of salt is easier when you dissociate the person and the behavior. Don’t take criticism personally. Instead, try to understand it as coming out from the other person’s perspective. 

9. Be flexible. 

Keep an open mind to develop a different approach for every situation.  

10. Talk it over with someone else. 

After a challenging work clash, take some time to discuss what happened with a person you trust. Sharing impartially is a chance to calm down and tackle the challenge with a cool head. 

 Whenever you encounter a difficult situation and tackle it successfully, give yourself credit for doing so. 

build a virtual team stress-free


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