Careers: Articles - Difficult People in the Workplace

We all encounter difficult people every day. Sometimes all we have to do to see one is to look in the mirror. Is there a person in your life or business who is demanding and intimidating? What about the person who never follows through or who is never happy? If you have to deal with a difficult person, here are some sure fire methods for understanding and communicating with them.

If someone is aggressive or intimidating in their manner there are a couple of tactics that work well. First, listen to what it is they have to say, but don't engage in an argument. Being polite, succinct and precise in your language will give them less room to engage in this negative behavior. If the person makes you nervous (which they do to control the situation) it may be wise to have someone else in the room when you are talking with them.

If the person criticizes you or pelts you with sarcastic comments that offend you, keep the conversation focused on the solution and don't acknowledge their inappropriateness. In cases like this it gives you more power if you remember to act rather than to react. Don't play their game as they are trying to make you feel unstable. In a difficult conversation, the first person to get mad loses.

When dealing with a person who is cold and closed off you need to consider that they may have a hidden agenda. Ask open-ended questions and be patient, it may take a little while but they will open up when they feel safe.

Perhaps one of the most difficult people to deal with is someone who is arrogant. People who engage in this behavior are usually trying to cover up their own insecurity. They may be trying to avoid taking responsibility for a problem which will be made obvious if they try to blame others. Dealing with them effectively requires that you know you're in the right. It also helps to have documentation to back up your observations.

When someone continually complains it can bring down an entire group of people and perhaps even a company. This kind of cynicism is uncomfortable for everyone around him or her. The best way to deal with it is to not allow them to complain unless they also present a solution to the issue. This will greatly reduce their ability to effect you and their fellow team members.

Some people talk so much that they are unable to hear anyone else. A great technique is to tell them as they begin that you only have a minute. If they continue bending your ear, don't be afraid to interrupt and tell them that you (and they) have to get back to what you were doing when the conversation began.

If someone is not doing his or her fair share around the office it can be very frustrating. These people can put more effort into finding short cuts than what it would take to just do the job. Don't cover for them, that's what they want you to do. If they ask for help or advice, have them create a list of what it is they need to accomplish. People who are prone to procrastinating are also usually unfocused and disorganized. To deal with them set firm timelines and emphasize the importance of meeting them. Be sure they know there are consequences if the timelines are not met. This will help to eliminate any excuses that they can think of. Make sure they give you a firm commitment and follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.

Finally, Some people hold on to every negative thing that has ever happened. They are not good team players and tend to work best in isolation. Take the pre-emptive approach with them, before you start, clarify that you are not present to rehash old conflicts. If past conflicts begin to surface cut the person off quickly and return to the issue at hand.

Sometimes we cannot deal with difficult types and we must move them on (or move on yourself). Life is too short to work (or hang out) with people who make you miserable. One of the best tools for keeping a team together is making sure they get along. If the problem persists, you may want to rethink your motivation for continuing to work with someone who continues to behave in a difficult manner.

Dealing with Difficult People is an art form. Those who are good at it tend to be successful in life and business (or they become therapists). Knowing how someone is likely to behave is helpful, and will give you the upper hand in an uncomfortable situation. Trust your instincts and don¹t let them grind you down.

Creating a Company Mentoring Program will help you deal effectively with difficult people and negative behavior in the workplace. For more information on mentoring or creating a program, send an e-mail to with the word "MENTOR" in the subject box, and the information will be sent to you.

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D.
For more than two decades Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organizations worldwide have relied on Dr. Barton Goldsmith to help them develop creative and balanced leadership. He is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, business consultant and nationally syndicated author. His columns appear in over 150 publications, including the Los Angeles Business Journal. Dr. Goldsmith works regularly with The Young President¹s Organization (YPO) and The Executive Committee (TEC). Considered an expert on small business, he has spoken worldwide to groups of 10 to 5,000, and is in high demand for Keynotes, Training and Consulting. He may be contacted through his web site or at (818) 879-9996.



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