How To Deal With Difficult People At Work

Every company has them. People who are difficult to work with. Some who just talk and don’t listen. Some who criticise everything they did not have anything to do with. Some who steal credit. Some who undermine others to put themselves in the spotlight. Some who are obnoxious or just plain bullies.

As a colleague, or even the boss, how do you deal with this problem? Because the behaviour of such people can be detrimental to the morale of others in the office and can impact productivity and efficiency. It may even drive good people to leave the company because they couldn’t take it any more.

Ignoring the problem and hoping that it will go away—or that they will go away—is not the answer. You must address the problem. Because chances are it will continue to simmer under the surface and suddenly erupt to cause even more turmoil.

The first thing to do is maintain objectivity and be in control of your emotions. Though it may seem tough, you need to examine yourself. Are you over-reacting? Is there something in your own attitude and behaviour that is causing the person to act this way? If you are honest with yourself, you may find that if not the cause of the behavior you may have done something, perhaps unwittingly to exacerbate the problem. If you can pinpoint what you might have said or done, you are well on the way to dealing with the problem. Exploring what you are experiencing with a trusted friend or colleague should help you get a fresh perspective.

Make a plan about how you will set about dealing with the problem. A private one-on-one conversation may not be an agreeable option, but it often works. Don’t get on the offensive with a list of complaints. It will only put the other person on the defensive and, remember, that he or she can come up with a bigger counter-list. You should avoid a slinging match. Instead, why not charm to disarm? Try to get to the root of the problem—what is making the person behave this way—and come up with some positive and supportive suggestions. Never have this encounter in public; it will do more harm than good.

Remember, bullies are actually cowards. Don’t feel intimidated or cowed down by the bully in your midst. Instead, calmly list the facts that are troubling. Be careful about not raising your voice—he or she will only outshout you. Become the peace-maker, create a sense of harmony.

When the ‘difficult’ person realises that you are not there to accuse but actually to help, you may see a change in behaviour. Suggest ways in which you can help. A class bully being given responsibility often changes dramatically. You could find ways to give him or her more responsibility in a project. Be sure to give the person credit if deserved . The qualities that enabled the person to get the job in the first place are still there. Make it your mission to bring out those capabilities and make sure the management gets to know the positive results that have accrued from the person’s hard work and leadership. Ask other colleagues to do likewise. Sending out positive vibes will go a long way to making the ‘difficult’ person a good team player.

In the end, it might just be that the person has been made to feel, deliberately or otherwise, socially snubbed and reacts by behaving in an obnoxious way. Invite him or her to the next lunch you have with your office friends. You’ll be surprised to find the ‘foe’ becoming a ‘friend’ and an asset rather than a liability to the company.

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