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Dealing with difficult people

Do you work with a difficult person?

“How you handle difficult people on the outside will define your character on the inside”

Betsy Allen Manning.

It doesn’t matter where you work or who you work with, you will eventually encounter people who you just don’t get along with. It’s not always possible to like everyone because everyone is different with unique values, dynamics and expectations. While you can’t change a person, you can take steps to minimise your stress and improve your working relationships. The key is to remember, you can’t change them, but you can change your response to them.

 It’s not personal.
This approach helps you to see the situation objectively. Consider cultural differences, personality traits, and communication difficulties. Some people have had more opportunities to learn and grow. Ask yourself if the problem is intentional before deciding that they are rude or if it is bullying behaviour.

Don’t be reactive.
Maintaining your self-control and composure will help you respond calmly. It gives you time to compose your thoughts, look at things without judgement and hopefully avoid an escalation of the problem. Some people are looking for a reaction from you and by responding calmly, you will take the power away from them.

Consider your approach.
People have different ways of speaking with others. While you may find direct, blunt communication works for one person, it may upset another and be considered rude. Look at their style of communication, do you need more clarification, do they like the facts or prefer to know the whole story? Change your communication to suit the person or situation. Even your body language could unintentionally be considered threatening.

Look at the problem not the person
If you look at the problem from a business point of view, as two separate parts: the persona and the problem, it helps to take emotion out of the argument. Is your language an attack on the person or does it address the issue? Acknowledge their ideas and contributions but focus on your aim or perspective. For example, you could say to the person ““That’s helpful information, I would like you to now…” or “I appreciate how hard you’ve worked on that, it would be good if we could…”

Timing is everything!
Is the person more approachable in the morning? Do they have more energy in the afternoon? Trying to speak with someone at the wrong time can set you back before you have even started. Likewise, if they have already had a negative interaction with another person, they may feel like they are being victimised or singled out and will be less inclined to listen to you. How much time can you take to speak to them? If you are in a hurry and rush through your words, it will give the impression that your time is important, and you cannot give them the time to really listen or respond.

Pick your battles
Reflect on your time and the emotional energy you have invested in the problem. Is it worth the effort? Don’t tire yourself out on little battles that don’t really matter, instead save yourself for when it is needed. This approach also gives your stance greater weight. If you are constantly having negative interactions with difficult people, it waters down the interaction when you care about the outcome. They are automatically going to have their back up and be defensive before you can even state your perspective.

Take a time out.
When all else fails, is it time to walk away? Taking a time out gives you the opportunity to cool down and look at things calmly. It gives you that additional time to formulate your responses and review the problem and the persons actions. Most importantly, it gives you time to recharge. Some interactions take a lot of emotional energy. It is better to be refreshed when tackling the problem again.

If these steps don’t work, you need to decide if this is simply a case of bullying or a person causing trouble. No matter what you do, some people look for conflict and thrive on gossip and being argumentative. Look at your organisations bullying and discrimination policy. Speak to a mentor or someone in management. Follow the correct process and document your problems with the individual, keeping to the facts and detailing as much as possible. You might find this confronting, but it shows that you value yourself and deserve more.

The Money Edge | Bundaberg | Kerri Schulz 

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