We all know that difficult people are an inevitable part of our lives, yet this knowledge doesn’t make them any easier to deal with. In the workplace we unfortunately have to avoid them or learn to live with them otherwise we suffer. They may be the type of people who deny their mistakes, take credit for other people’s work, respond to mistakes with anger, demand authority rather then earn it, and put themselves before their team members. Their actions may sadden you, anger you, inspire hatred or revenge, but what they do doesn’t matter so much as how you respond to such a challenging situation.
At the end of the day, remaining negative will adversely affect your health and prevent you from doing your best work. You don’t need to become the second difficult person to deal with in an already testing circumstance.
Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Resolving conflict at work is by no means an easy thing to do. It can be risky and emotional stuff. You don’t know how management or the difficult person will react if you raise the issue. If you do, you may feel like you are putting your job under scrutiny by calling someone else out. You may feel that you are at risk of being a target for the difficult person once they are aware that you have a problem with them. You may feel like a “your-word-against-theirs” situation would be a losing battle. You may feel like your accusations are only your perception and therefore unjustified. You probably just want to go back to how your life was before the difficult person arrived. The thing is, problems don’t just disappear. You can bet that other people will experience the same difficulties that you do unless you raise the issue. Taking care of yourself is however, your first priority.
The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.
-Don Juan, Mexican shaman (quoted by Carlos Castaneda)
In his book Conscious Business, Fred Kofman, professor and leadership consultant to teams at LinkedIn, Facebook and Yahoo! illustrates two mindsets that one can adopt, particularly in a conflict situation.
The first is the victim mentality, which we commonly fall into. Whenever something goes wrong, victims will choose to blame it on factors that are outside of their control. You’ll find them saying, “They did this wrong, they need to do this to fix it, it’s not my fault it turned out badly”. Victims approach situations with a “who’s to blame” mentality so that they can appear innocent.
Players on the other hand, take responsibility for their actions and know that they have the ability to respond in ways that are self-empowering. In a conflict situation this may even include owning up to mistakes or taking time away from the conflict to gather their strength. Nonetheless this shows that they can stand by their decisions. Players approach life with a “What can I do?” mentality. They understand that it is only when they perceive themselves as a part of the problem (not necessarily the source) that they can be a part of the solution.
Victim mentality: Who’s to blame?
Player mentality: What can I do?
Being aware of the two different mindsets is a very powerful tool. Having this awareness means that we can catch ourselves out when we drift into victim mode and consciously redirect our thoughts to the “what can I do” player mode. Being a player is not easy. As Kofman states, “The price of power is responsibility”.
Here are some tips I have for dealing with difficult people based on my own experiences.
1. Make your wellbeing the first priority so that you can be in a state to make the best decisions.
2. Talk to trusted co-workers about the problem and ask if they have had similar experiences with the difficult person.
3. Express the problem to management early on. Prevention of a big blow out is better then trying to cure a big blow out.
4. Demonstrate that you are willing to work with your organisation to resolve the situation.
5. You can’t script a confrontation. Allow yourself to COMPASSIONATELY respond in the moment.
6. Understand that it is in everyone’s best interests to resolve a conflict situation. It affects not only you, but also your employers and the rest of your team.
7. Understand that the difficult person is often unaware of how they are affecting you or that they are difficult in the first place.
8. Pick your battles. Is the difficult person more likely to listen to someone other then yourself?
9. Ask for a mediator during any confrontations/discussions to avoid “he-said, she-said” arguments.
10. Focus your energy on being kind towards yourself instead of being negative towards the difficult person.
11. Let the conflict and resolution process occur over time. Our wounds don’t heal in a day. Neither do conflicts. Allow yourself to heal and take proactive steps towards resolution when you have the strength to. Just don’t neglect the problem once it has been aired.
Good luck with the difficult ones. Hopefully they will help you appreciate the good ones much more, fortify you to deal with future challenging situations and teach you what your soul is made of. Remember that you can only do the best you with what you have.
Image: Joan of Arc in Battle by Hermann Anton Stilke