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HELP!!  I’m Working with Difficult People
 
 
Our work environment can significant influence how we view ourselves and our relationships with others.  For most of us, the work we do every day is a source of satisfaction and pride.  However, when working with “difficult people” – those who may represent a markedly different personality type, communication style, or work ethic -- we can experience a decline in our feelings of success, psychological wellness, and ability to stay focused on our jobs.  If you feel hijacked by “difficult people,” read on. 
 
Our ability to balance our own needs and the needs of our coworkers and managers is a learned skill.  Rather than feeling “victimized” or “tormented” by negative behaviors of others, how about playing a more active role in defining your work relationships and your overall work experience, making the necessary personal and professional adjustments?  Make those vital choices that will enhance your work experience! 
 
Here are some ideas to help you deal with challenging people.  Some of them may sound contrary to your feelings about the person or situation, but they could considerably improve your life at work:
 
  • Don’t take the words or behaviors of challenging people too personally.  Life has become very complex, so understand that they don’t have too much time to think about you.  You are probably just a “blip” on their radar screen. 
  • It is unlikely that you will be able to change them.  Remember – you really don’t have control over others; you are only able to modify your own thoughts and behaviors when faced with challenges and how you respond.
  • Their challenging behavior presents an opportunity for growth!  You may develop valuable skills in coping with difficult people who are generally present everywhere you go.  Use this opportunity, and then take what you have learned and use it wherever you go!
  • Let go of your own negative feelings about people.  Instead, see if you can bring out the best in them, at their worst.   It is better to think of them as full people, with their own set of strengths and weaknesses, who are trying to do the best they can with what they know about life - the values, beliefs, and ways of coping with life that they learned.
  • Express your feelings…carefully.   Don’t always put your irritation, outrage or annoyance on hold.  If someone offends you, respectfully tell them how you feel.  However take a few minutes (or longer) and find words which avoid blaming or labeling them, backing them into a defensive corner.  Focus on the offending behavior, not the person:  “Pat, I know that you are truly invested in the success of this project.  It’s important for you to understand that I, too, am invested and want to see things go well.  But, based on what you just said, I don’t feel you have given my contribution the value it deserves.”
  • Invite the other person to express their feelings.  Don’t guess.  Ask them.  “When this happens, Carl, how does it make you feel" (or "how does that affect you")?
  • Stay calm during times of conflict.  Take the time needed to respond.  Soften your own voice to help them calm down also.  “Susan, it sounds like both of our approaches to this have merit.  Let’s take some time to hear each other’s ideas.”
  • “It’s more important to be kind than it is to be right.”  Practice this.  (This can be really hard for some, but worth it!)  Model kindness for others so they get it, too.  No matter how right we are, if we are not kind in our presentation, our “right” message won’t be heard by anyone. 
  • Go out of your way to ask difficult people for their opinion and their assistance. Try to get them to take an interest in you, giving them an ownership stake in your work and problems you face.  Their personality won’t be changed, but their behavior toward working together may be transformed.
  • If someone is extremely rude and abusive, politely excuse yourself from the scene and offer to return at a later time.  This diffuses the tension and keeps the door open for resolution.
 
Stopping to check and recheck our responses to a difficult coworker or manager requires that we make healthy communication and preserving relationships a priority. Set aside old responses and practice one or two new approaches with people in all areas of your life.  You may be surprised at your ability to experience greater feelings of accomplishment, psychological wellness and connectedness as you navigate through your day. 
 
Jan
 
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