How to Effectively Deal with Difficult People in the Workplace


In every workplace, and in some shape or form – you’ll inevitably have to deal with difficult people. If it’s not tough customers, then it could be stubborn or demanding employees.

The modern workplace is filled with a variety of characters, some of which we aren’t always used to dealing with. This can create some clashes further down the line, but thankfully, there are proven ways to help disarm difficult situations.

When you increase your own work ethic and morale, you’ll naturally help build a positive working environment around you. Here are eight tips on how you can effectively deal with difficult people in the workplace:

Keep your cool

It can be very easy to react when you see red. While remaining calm can be incredibly tough when someone has pressed all the wrong buttons, adding fuel to the fire will only make matters worse. If you practice remaining calm under pressurised moments, you’ll be far more respected, centred and in control.

Speak calmly yet firmly once the opposing party has had a chance to catch a breath, then voice what you want to say. When the person you are dealing with realises you are keeping your composure, it will naturally aid in diffusing a heated situation, making it easier to deal with the issue at hand.

Be as understanding as possible

Listening is the key to understanding someone’s issues. People like to be heard, but it’s one thing to absorb information and another to formulate a respectful and constructive response based on said information.

Really focus on what the other person is trying to say, instead of what you should be saying next. Identify what has triggered this person and empathise with their point of view. Ask yourself what’s stopping them from moving forward and co-operating? Pinpointing this will help you identify what can be done to meet this person’s needs and resolve the situation.

Look at the bigger picture

Take a step back. Are you sure you’re not the one at fault here? It can be easy to deflect blame for reasons such as shame, guilt or fear. But if you realise that you were in the wrong then admitting this fault will drastically help resolve the situation.

Always analyse your behavioural patterns and what triggers you to prevent any further difficult situations.

Set boundaries

Being assertive involves taking full responsibility for your own actions and not the attitudes and actions of others. This mentality teaches difficult co-workers that they cannot get away with manipulating assertive employees to go along with their own wishes.

Deflecting attacks comes naturally to an assertive person due to the use of “I” statements instead of “You” statements, which can be a leading cause of “heat of the moment” arguments.

Don’t gossip with other co-workers

Gossiping is a common issue in the workplace. They might gossip about a variety of issues such as what another colleague said, managers, policies, the list is endless. However, nothing good comes of it, and it only leaves you and others feeling negative.

If a colleague asks you about anything going on in the workplace, be honest but state that you don’t want to discuss details at work. Ensure to keep this resistance up until the matter is resolved.

Don’t take things personally

A discussion in the workplace isn’t always pleasant, and that’s just a part of everyday working life. However, it’s how you deal with negative behaviour towards you that determines your level of professionalism.

How a person acts towards you says more about the person than you, so don’t take things to heart even if they’re expressed with anger and frustration.

Avoid trying to please the other person

People, including co-workers, can really take advantage by overstepping their boundaries and asking for too many favours. Even if they’re your boss, you should never have to compromise on favours that don’t feel right.

Deal with the person directly

If you’re unhappy with something a colleague has said or done, it’s best to confront them directly but in a professional and calm manner. However, if you think you’re unable to resolve the situation or feel uncomfortable then having HR or a line manager present in the conversation is highly beneficial as they can act as a mediator.

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