7 Secrets for Dealing With Difficult People and Overcoming Interpersonal Conflicts At Work (Written by Career Expert, Pete Leibman)
There’s no way around it. Whether it’s an annoying customer, a critical colleague, or an awful boss, we all have to deal with difficult people at work sometimes. Here are 7 secrets for dealing with difficult people and overcoming interpersonal conflicts at work:
- Don’t take it personally. No one is born with a rotten attitude; people lash out when they don’t know how to deal with stress and adversity in a healthy way. Last year, I was involved in a networking group, and one of the women in the group was incredibly abrasive and critical. I later learned that her young daughter had just been diagnosed with cancer. That tragedy did not give her the right to disrespect us, but it made it easier for me to understand why she did. At work, you usually won’t know what’s going on in someone’s personal life. If someone is difficult, it probably has absolutely nothing to do with you, so don’t take it personally.
- Consider your role. Having said that, you might have had something to do with the other person’s poor attitude! As hard as it might be, when someone is critical, you have to listen to what is being said, and ignore how it is being said. Did you do something that brought on the reaction? For example, one of my roommates recently lashed out at me when I mistakenly threw out some of his kitchen tools during an overenthusiastic New Year’s Day cleaning session. While I did not like how he discussed this with me, what he was saying was totally accurate. I was 100% wrong for throwing out several of his items without asking if he still wanted them. Ultimately, I was the cause of his reaction, and I took accountability by agreeing to replace the items.
- Fight fire with water. If someone lashes out at you, it’s very tempting to fire back. However, that will only make the situation worse. Always keep your cool and stay calm, no matter how hard that might be. If necessary, excuse yourself for a few minutes and get some fresh air outside. Let the other person vent, and choose your words very carefully when you respond. You will be amazed at how people calm down when you hear them out and consider their perspective.
- Kill them with kindness. You should never let people walk all over you just for the sake of keeping the peace. However, many difficult people have low self-esteem and are actually just crying out for some genuine appreciation. Especially if the person is a subordinate or colleague, consider being a source of encouragement.
- Talk it out in-person. Never go behind someone’s back because that will only make the other person even angrier if it gets back to him/her. I made that mistake once at the start of my career after college. You should also not rely on email or texting to discuss disputes. Talk face-to-face (ideal) or via phone, if an in-person meeting is not possible. Discussing a conflict over lunch can also serve to clear the air and help you repair or improve a strained relationship.
- Involve other people carefully. If you have failed to settle a dispute with another person, then (and only then) consider bringing in other people to help with a resolution. Just be certain that the difficult person knows you will be bringing in someone else for help.
- If all else fails, minimize interactions. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you will not be able to improve your relationship with a colleague, boss, or customer. In that case, either eliminate all interaction with the person (that’s probably not possible if the difficult person is your boss!) or minimize the time spent with him/her as much as possible. Your #1 responsibility is to keep yourself happy.
Like this post or got something to add on how to deal with difficult people at work? Please comment below!
-President of Idealize Enterprises
-Creator of The Dream Job College Tour
–Creator of The Washington Wizards’ Sports Careers Day
P.S. To learn more about my 1-on-1 career coaching programs or my speaking availability for The 2011 Dream Job College Tour, please send an email to Pete@IdealizeNow.com.