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Dealing with Difficult People

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Let’s face it, we all deal with difficult people.  We deal with them at home, with friends, and in the mainstream public.  We also deal with difficult people at workthat is your co-workers, your boss, customers, and yes, even colleagues you may get along with. It is important to learn the interpersonal skills you need when faced with difficult situations and people; you spend on average about eight hours at your job every day, so it essential that you equip yourself with the necessary arsenal when dealing with difficult people.   

The first thing to recognize is that there are different levels of difficult people or what we may perceive to be difficult people.  This section also includes how we can deal with aggressive, and passive aggressive behaviors.   

  • Differences-Sometimes we work with people who view things very differently than we do.  And we tend to define them as “difficult.”  Maybe they have a messy desk, or they do things at a faster pace or work too slow.  Perhaps they tend to share more details with you than you want them to or perhaps they don’t share enough details with you.  Perhaps they are more emotional?  It may be wise to recognize that there isn’t a problem or any level of difficulty, there is simply a difference on how someone else perceives and accomplishes things.  One should accept this difference and try not to focus too much on getting caught up in any negativity.   
  • Incompetency-Some people do not have the skill set to complete something successfully.  Perhaps they are not very disciplined or organized.  Perhaps they have problems in their performance.  Maybe they act before they think or talk much more than they listen. Maybe they try to bring people down.  People in this category are not very empathetic and are not as self-disciplined.  Sometimes they spread rumors about people because they are jealous of one’s success.  This type of personality you need to be weary of.   
  • Toxic and Aggressive-Toxic people are the hardest to deal with.  They are depressing, criticize often, are surrounded by drama, or they need to be right all the time.  People with this type of personality are just not friendly with people.  They don’t respect boundaries, they are very opiniated, and are generally very selfish.  These people may talk to you in a patronizing manner, they may even ignore you, and they also tend to stereotype people.   Toxic people are usually defined as bullies.  When they approach you in an aggressive manner, it may be a good idea for you to stand up for yourself.  If you do this, make sure you do it calmly.  People feel that sometimes people in this category get rewarded for their bad behavior, especially if someone doesn’t stand up to them.  If you feel the need to stand up to them and call them out on their behavior, make sure you point out that their behavior is upsetting you, rather than saying “You are such an aggressive person,” and do it in calm, collective manner.  Don’t stoop to their level by responding with anger.   
    • Sometimes you work for someone who has an aggressive or passive aggressive personality, and you must weigh the option—can I deal with this behavior and not let it affect me personally?  If I can’t deal with this, would I better off looking for another position?   If the person is your supervisor there may be issues in: 
      • communication or lack thereof 
      • lack of recognition 
      • maybe your boss takes credit for work that you have done 
      • there is unfairness in the workplace—some bosses have their favorites 
      • make decisions that don’t involve you 
    • There are some strategies that you may be able to work on when dealing with an aggressive manager: 
      • Find some commonality.  If you have something in common with your supervisor this may help with communications. 
      • Show yourself how invaluable you are; perhaps you can make your supervisor more dependent on you.  Make yourself indispensable.  Enhance your value to that your supervisor will recognize that they can’t live without you. 
      • If you find that you are with someone who is just plain nasty, start to document everything.  Save texts, emails, anything that is in writing.  Please know that if you go to the HR Director to report any wrong doing on the part of your manager, Human Resources may not defend you, as HR is working more for the company’s interests.   
    • If the person who is aggressive is someone that works for you, you may be able to enact change.  Bear in mind though, that it is not easy to change someone with aggressive behavior, so you must decide if it is a behavior you can deal and live with.  One of the key things is not to respond with anger if they are angry; this will only make things worse.  If you decide it is something that you can deal with, then what you would most likely want to do is to detach yourself from their behavior.  Recognize that the behavior is their problem, not your problem.  Know that each day you work and do your best that there is nothing wrong with you, especially when they go out of their way to try to make you feel bad about yourself.   
    • Another tactic is to try the fogging method—When someone is aggressive towards you, you can say something like, “oh yea, you are probably right, but we have different styles.  Instead of meeting anger with anger, by saying yes, you stall them a bit, and they may be taken back by the agreement.  This may help reduce some tension.  However, if you are someone with self-confident issues, this method may not work for you. You could also say to someone well “you are entitled to your view.”  The important thing is not to think of this as giving in.  You are simply trying to avoid any unpleasant scenarios from happening, and this does not give them much leverage to continue with their aggressive behavior.  If you stay calm and not react in a negative way to their aggression, you really have the upper hand. 
  • Passive AggressivePeople in this category tend to agree with you, and then hold some hostility and bitterness when complying with someone’s request.  They may have a cynical or pessimistic outlook.  They are not outright aggressive but may act out in other ways such as being stubborn, procrastinating, and exhibit resistance.  This type of person goes out of their way to avoid someone if they dislike them.  They may also give people the silent treatment if they are angry.  Just like their toxic counterparts, they bear grudges.  This behavior is harder to detect because unlike toxic or aggressive people who clearly make it known they have an issue, you might not be able to tell if this person is upset with you or not.  They tend to keep their aggressive feelings bottled up.   You may not know what they are thinking, and they take out their anger behind your back.   When dealing with passive aggressive people, it is probably good to try to keep the channel of communication open as much as you can.  Give them the opportunity to speak up if there is a conflict or disagreement.  When this type of personality does not speak up or is not encouraged to do so, they may end up being a low performer.  There is also the risk that they may blow up at some point because they are bottling everything inside.  One of the most important aspects of dealing with passive aggressive behaviors is to be a good listener.  Take the time to listen to them.  Give them a chance to open; it may take them a little bit of time to do so.  People who deal with this personality may want to consider asking more probing questions.