It’s not that working with difficult people drains energy, but even thinking that you have to deal with a certain dreaded person makes you lose steam. Dealing with the dread of interacting with people considered difficult is a proactive way you can retain your energy to invest in more interesting projects. Changing the way you address your work with whoever is difficult for you is one of the best ways to move your career forward.
Here’s the foundational issue: Seeing the situation as "I (the good one) have to work with difficult her (the bad one.)" That attitude seeps into all your interactions with that person and she will react accordingly, i.e. by continuing to be even more difficult.
To effectively deal with difficult people at work, you have to change. (Be the change you want to see, remember?)
There are all sorts of difficult people you have to deal with, usually it’s a specific habit this person has that really annoys you. Difficult habits include: dominating all meetings, talking about you behind your back, saying one thing and doing another, displaying a negative attitude, continuous fault finding or being obsequious. Have I left out something?
1) Maybe you are the difficult person in this situation.
The first step in dealing with, or communicating with difficult people is to realize that there is at least one person, and maybe a whole slew of people consider you a difficult person. Yes, little, lovable, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly you. Maybe this annoying behavior is a reaction to your own lack of accountability or micromanagement. Or maybe you hired the wrong person. It’s possible you haven’t been clear in communicating your expectations.
Action step: Review with yourself any possible ways you could be inadvertently contributing to this situation. Make a list.
2) Find the honest positives in that person.
Keeping in mind that you are considered a difficult person (by delusional folks of course) can free you to see the situation from a broader perspective. Remember how terribly awful you thought your brother, or sister, or buddy to be in certain situations when you were young. It’s kind of the same situation, all over again. Look for the good in that difficult person. Make it your mission to unearth the good side.
The problem with that difficult person may be s/he’s not a good fit for the job. If that’s the case, a terrible hiring mistake was made and that could even be your responsibility.
It’s a lot like getting married. The qualities you admire in your boyfriend end up driving you nuts in a marriage. It’s your responsibility to recontextualize, or reframe the situation.
Action step: Make a list of the ways this person contributes to the project. What are his good qualities. Why was she hired?
3) Everyone knows something you need to know.
This step should motivate you to work harder at #2. Everyone has the capability of helping you in some way or another; that help may not be evident. Think of a time when in talking to someone, a fresh idea or perspective emerged from the conversation. Or how you found out the name of someone you needed to contact. That’s how detectives solve their mysteries. No one ever told Sherlock Holmes the right clue intentionally — he deducted the value in information that was available, or he asked the right questions. Even the fact that you consider a specific person difficult can help you discern your own personality quirks. For sure the situation is an opportunity to develop your own leadership!
Action step: What have you learned from this person? What have you learned from interacting with this person? What do you need to learn from this?
4) Take responsibility for your own role in the conflictive situation.
Of course, you didn’t do it on purpose. If you had known better, you would have handled the person in a more careful manner. Mayben you were not clear yourself at some point in the conflict. The point is not to beat up yourself for not being perfect, the point is to realize that everyone has his own drama on stage. The mere owning up to a minor role of responsibility changes the tenor of the relationship context, and communication with this person improves automatically as a result.
It’s also possible that your way of communicating with this person brings out their worst side. Yep. Could be.
From time to time, everyone plays the role of the witch, the dysfunctional, the hysterical, the overly sensitive, the angry person. Assume more responsibility for turning this relationship around, and communication can only get better!
Action step: Think of the ways you enable this person to continue to "act up"? How do you need to change?
5. It’s possibly an issue of accountability.
Maybe the issue is a no-no like not delivering the quota of work, bad mouthing other employees, arriving late….in some way not behaving within the framework of a "good employee," Well, have you been tolerating the situation for some time?
Now this is what you need to keep in mind: Everyone is a hero in their own story.
If someone on your team is slacking, it’s not clearcut a "I’m good" versus "you’re bad" situation. Own up to your part in this drama.
Have you spoken with the person, showing appreciation for their positive contribution and asked for specific changes on a timely basis? Did you establish a plan for follow up?
Action step: What is your process for exercising accountability? How do you follow up on commitments made? Are you taking the time to touch base with this person if applicable?
How do you deal with difficult people at work? What habits do you have to deal with?