How to deal with difficult people you cannot avoid

People are not necessarily difficult but different.

Written by Brendan Barker

From direct reports to supervisors and co-workers, difficult people come in every variety and no workplace is without them. 

Sometimes you can deal with them through avoidance. But how do you deal with the difficult people you cannot avoid? 

It’s not you, it’s me 

You might not like hearing this, but it’s actually more about you than it is about the other person. People are not necessarily difficult but different. In other words if someone sees things different than us we might think they are “difficult.” It’s also important to remember that the only thing you have control over in any situation is your own reactions and yourself. This means that while you can’t control that person who is always late, you can control how you react to them.

Develop self-awareness 

To become self-aware, you need to practice noticing your feelings, thoughts and behaviour. And your triggers—the things difficult people do that get under your skin. Some people find it helpful to keep a notepad or journal with them and document things as they come up. When you get good at it, you’ll start looking at the whole picture and both sides of the issue. You’ll eventually tap into your emotions and choose to take action in situations, instead of reacting to the person.

Be assertive and set boundaries 

An assertive person sets limits and stands up for themselves, so others won’t take advantage of them. Difficult people learn quickly that they can’t easily persuade an assertive person to do or go along with whatever they wish. This not only empowers you it also teaches the other person how to treat you. When being assertive, use “I” statements, not “you” statements, as “you” statements tend to lead to attack and blame.

Talk to the person

With a workplace bully or backstabber, it may be necessary to confront the person instead of letting the behaviour continue. Having a calm discussion about the problem may have a surprising response. Some people don’t realise the adverse impact their statements and actions have on others. During the discussion, you might even discover why they’re being so difficult. This will give you both some understanding of the situation and a way to a possible solution. Try to talk reasonably and hold your temper. However, let the person know you will take action if their behaviour continues.

Talk to a friend

Maybe the other person isn’t the problem, maybe it’s you. Talking over a co-worker situation with a friend might provide you with an unbiased opinion and clarity. You might even discover that you’re overreacting. Talking to a friend will allow you to vent your frustrations. But it will also give you the support you need to find the strength in dealing with the other person.

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Enhance your leadership skills with courses at Odyssey Training. 

Our mission is to help emerging and frontline managers achieve positive, long-term behavioural change for themselves and their teams. We achieve this through practical high-quality leadership programs, self-directed action planning, and embedded learning support.

Effective communication forms the basis of successful relationships, but it involves more than just speaking or listening well. To communicate effectively, you must adapt in response to particular people and situations, and this requires a willingness to develop your self-awareness and people skills over time. Dealing with difficult behaviour 1 day course will empower you to deal with difficult behaviours by recognising and understanding the intents behind them and responding assertively.