We spend the greatest percentage of our waking hours at work. This makes having to deal with difficult people at work especially frustrating and often impossible to avoid. It would be wonderful if we could all be friends with everyone but unfortunately, life is not a sitcom. The diverse personalities, perspectives, and agendas in the workplace often make complete harmony a challenge or, worse, frequent friction can make us dread going to work. But the truth is, difficult people are a fact of life and knowing how to deal with them with dignity is an essential life skill.
Below are 5 tips that will make you a “difficult people whisperer” at work and in every area of your life.
1. Make sure the difficult person you’re dealing with isn’t you.
If everyone you run into is a jerk, what is the common factor? It might be you! It requires a high level of self-awareness to look at yourself from an outsider’s perspective. But keep in mind that we often see behaviors in others that are actually present in ourselves. Maybe we are frustrated with our job or home life and it’s coloring our behavior at work. When it seems like a high percentage of the people you work with are rude, insincere, or critical, take an honest look at yourself to see if you have these traits. If you have a trusted friend at work who will shoot straight with you, ask if they think you have an attitude problem.
2. Don’t engage in a fight with someone—ignore it.
The most effective way to extinguish a behavior you don’t like is to ignore it. When you engage in a fight with someone who clearly wants to argue, you’re perpetuating a cycle they enjoy. This also known as taking the bait. Just because someone wants to fight doesn’t mean you have to participate. Save yourself the time and frustration by refusing to play along.
3. Focus more on face-to-face contact.
Today’s busy and technologically dependent work environments use a variety of quick but impersonal forms of contact, like email and instant messaging or chat programs. While this is a great way to connect teams and get quick responses, it also weakens communication. Your tone is even harder to convey in email or text chat. If there’s someone at work who regularly rubs you the wrong way in emails, challenge yourself to in-person or phone contact instead. We could improve our work relationships a lot by having more face-to-face contact.
4. Set limits and encourage problem-solving behavior.
Every office has at least one person who’s frequently unhappy and complains a lot about the job. You may not be able to get away from them, but you can limit the shadow they cast over the office. Set a time limit for letting them vent and stick to it. Then you can gently and politely redirect them toward finding solutions to the situations that irritate them. Chronic complainers often feel powerless but it can be easy to give them a sense of empowerment. The cliched “squeaky wheel” will just get more irritating when ignored, but the noise can go away when you fix the reason for its squeaking.
5. Take the high road.
Even if you already know that some of your work relationships will be difficult, there’s no excuse for treating them differently as a result. We’re all adults in the workplace and we should be able to deal with difficult people accordingly. Even if others at work aren’t behaving like mature adults, it doesn’t mean that you have to sink to their level. Remember that you can’t control the behavior of others; you can only control yourself. Treat everyone else with respect and dignity, regardless of whether or not you would choose to hang out with them as a friend outside of work. You get back what you put out there into the world, so choose to focus on the good. You’ll be surprised by how much of the good you’ll begin to see, even at work.