Difficult people are everywhere. And it seems the more frantic and anxious the world becomes, the more its residents respond in kind.

Considering the majority of our waking hours are spent in the workplace, it’s inevitable we’ll come across people who need to be treated with kid gloves.

It falls to the rest of us (because we’re not hard to get along with, are we?) to figure out how to deal with someone we’d rather not have to deal with, in order to get work done with our psyche reasonably intact.

Finding ways to manage these delicate interactions is essential for maintaining productivity and morale. 


1. step back before reacting

Situation: A colleague criticizes your approach to work at a meeting.

Rather than immediately reacting by defending your position, take time to think before responding. This can avoid an unnecessary escalation of tension.

Our instinct is often to react immediately to conflict, but it's essential to resist this impulse.

Take the time to count to ten, breathe deeply, and respond thoughtfully rather than reactively.

2. learn to tune it out

If the situation is more of a minor annoyance than a true problem, then you’re probably better off finding your zen and ignoring it.

Be the bigger person. It’s not worth your time to attempt to stop a coworker from going off the deep end over some insignificant thing.

You don’t have to match their temperament, anxiety or volume and ratchet up the tension.

Instead of engaging in a war that will have no winners, stay focused on your objectives and priorities or walk away.

If you can decamp to a quiet meeting room or put on your headphones, it might be for the best.

To quote yet another cliché… ignorance is bliss. Ignore what you can. Be selective about what issues you’re willing to fight for, and which you can let slide.

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3. pick your battles

Pick your battles, because you can’t win them all. (And if you try to, you’re probably one of the difficult personalities we’re talking about!)

Professionals know when it’s time to concede or compromise. Trust us when we say there are times in your career when you’ll have to do both to keep the peace.

Sometimes you’ll need to let the little things go so you can focus your energy on dealing with issues that are actually important to you.

Instead of fighting over every detail, choose to compromise on the less important points to maintain a positive collaboration.

4. remember the positive

Sometimes, in order to get the job done, you have to consider the situation from a different angle.

Remember, everyone is part of the team – even the most prickly pear. Think of your personality differences as a benefit; different people bring different talents, skills, and ways of working to the table.

That’s a good thing as long as everyone’s on the same page in terms of the ultimate goal.

And, as difficult as it may be, try to find positive things about the person you can hang on to when the going gets really rough.

Most people, even the most difficult of coworkers, usually have some good traits. After all, they were hired and have been kept on the payroll for a reason!

5. don’t take it personally

This one’s easy to say, but not quite so easy to put into action. Everyone thinks it’s the other guy that’s the problem.

In our own minds, we’re in the right, and they’re wrong. It’s completely black and white.

An outsider perspective can have a little more gray. Often what sets difficult people off, and what they’re actually responding to, has nothing to do with you or the work situation at all. So don’t make it about you.

Try to think of the situation from the perspective of the difficult coworkers. Did they recently go through some personal issues that are causing them to act out?

Their behaviour most likely has nothing to do with you. Whatever’s going on has touched a personal nerve that they may not even be aware of.

You may not be so quick to anger and retaliation when you learn a yelling co-worker is caring for an ailing parent or is a single parent dealing with a truant teenager.

That’s not to excuse their behaviour, only to help understand it and look for ways to get along with the fewest casualties.

6. take the high road

At the end of the day, there are few things in life over which we truly have control.

But what we can control is how we react, our behaviour and responses to situations and people. Act like a leader.

Responding to a difficult person in kind is giving over your power to them because you’re letting them change who you are.

Whatever happens, remember how you want to feel about yourself and act accordingly.

7. react professionally when necessary

If there’s an issue that you have to deal with, how you bring it up is crucial. Many difficult personalities aren’t going to be receptive to what they deem criticism.

However, some issues must be dealt with. There are some things you can’t just let slide, like an employee who’s putting colleagues’ safety or mental health at risk, or jeopardizing the company. 

Dealing with difficult people can be challenging, but by adopting these strategies, you demonstrate your ability to solve problems while promoting a positive working environment.

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