5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People at Work

Posted   posted by Melissa Harr 4 Comments

Every office is plagued with them: those co-workers who seem to make every interaction difficult. The reasons they can’t get along with everyone else vary; perhaps they don’t like people, or they never learned interpersonal skills, or maybe they just don’t get enough sleep. No matter why they act the way they do, you’ll still have to deal with them, so you may as well focus on the person you can control — yourself. By changing the way you interact with difficult co-workers, you can make relationships run smoother and alleviate your office-related stress. Here are a five simple tips you can follow for dealing with difficult people at work.

1. Change Your Attitude
Instead of looking at co-workers as difficult or bothersome, see them as giving you the chance to grow. Often, we find people difficult because our style of interpersonal interaction is vastly different from theirs. This is an opportunity to learn new ways of dealing with others. For example, if you believe in politeness, but your coworker insists on shoving reports at you or doesn’t have the word ‘please’ in his or her vocabulary, you might modify your well-mannered tendencies. Don’t reward their rude behavior with extreme courtesy; instead, be short and to the point, then get back to work. This is not to suggest that you should be rude. Just don’t waste your mannerly behavior on someone who doesn’t appreciate it.

2. Communicate Effectively
Many times co-workers are seen as rude, condescending, or overbearing because your lines of communication have broken down or your requests are worded vaguely. Learn to communicate your needs and wants clearly, and ask for confirmation that others have understood what you’ve said. Avoid vague wording, such as “Hey, could you get those numbers to me by Friday if you get a chance?” Be clear and say, “Please deliver the numbers to me by Friday.” If you find yourself in the middle of a dispute, such as over who deserves an exciting new project, sit down and convey your thoughts to your co-worker. If direct conversations make you nervous, try outlining what you’d like to say in advance.

See Also: How To Stay Focused at Work

3. Don’t Engage
The quickest way to eradicate obnoxious behavior is to simply ignore it. When you’ve tried changing your interaction patterns and communicating clearly, but no change has occurred in the relationship, stop engaging. Some people enjoy getting a rise out of others, so the more you react, the more you feed the flame. Keep your interactions short and don’t let others see that they’ve gotten to you. Try a productive way to release your frustration instead. Go to your car and listen to your favorite song, take a coffee break, or write your grievances out, then throw the paper away. When your co-workers see that they don’t get any payoff from their behavior, they’ll most likely leave you alone.

4. Don’t Gossip
It may be tempting to air your frustrations to anyone who will listen, but gossip travels fast and will undo any work you’ve done toward not engaging. Complaining also serves to cement your frustrations; by reliving the aggravation every time you retell it, you’ll be giving your issues more power in your own mind. If you absolutely must say something, choose one trusted confidant and ask him or her for constructive feedback.

5. Ask for Help
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, difficult relationships either don’t get better or, unfortunately, become worse. This often happens when the other party realizes that you are trying to change how you react to them; if they’ve stopped getting payoff from agitating you, some extremely stubborn individuals will try harder to annoy you. When this happens, ask for constructive help. Your boss may be able to provide a third party to mediate your issues, or he or she may find a different coworker for you to deal with. If your coworker’s behavior is truly egregious, your boss may even reprimand him or her, which will save you from having to control the problem yourself. Be careful not to become the office tattletale, though. If possible, you should try to handle the problem on your own first.

No matter how you choose to address the situation, be patient when trying to change your interactions with difficult co-workers. Relationship patterns don’t change overnight, so give new strategies time to work before you decide whether change is happening. Even if your efforts don’t bring perfect results, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried.

Do you have any strategies for dealing with difficult people at work? Have you tried any of the above strategies? Let us know with a comment below!



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Written by Melissa Harr

Melissa Harr is a writer and English teacher with a passion for travel and technology. She has written for a variety of outlets on the web, and she enjoys writing travel fiction in her free time.

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