Dealing with a difficult person at work can make for a stressful day. Not only that, it drains your energy and takes your focus away from what matters most, your job. So how do you deal with someone who refuses to be a team player? How do you deal with someone who seems to have nothing better to do than wreak havoc on the team?
Your best course of action for handling a difficult coworker is first and foremost remain calm. When you stay the calm party in the discussion, the more likely you are to keep things from getting out of hand. When you stay calm, set boundaries, listen and focus on a solution, you are on your way to improving your relationship. If you are dealing with an unpleasant coworker, keep reading to discover some smart strategies to remain positive and keep your sanity.
A little understanding goes a long way. Perhaps the key to handling a difficult coworker is taking the time to build rapport. Spend time getting to know their professional motivations. What are their work habits? What annoys them? What do they like? What’s most important to them at work? Have they recently gone through a recent departmental transition or job switch? Taking the time to understand them could help with your interactions with that person.
Say for example you have a coworker who is notorious for being rude to anyone who asks them questions. Maybe they are responding that way because they prefer not to be bothered between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. because that is why they are most focused. If you take the time to learn this, you can avoid disturbing them during those hours. When you take the time to show someone you care about what matters to them, you are much more likely to stay on their good side.
Remain Calm and Don’t Take it Personal
Not everything is a personal attack on you, so in most cases, it is best not to get defensive. This can be hard to do when someone is speaking harshly to you and saying hurtful things. The person may be so emotionally charged during a tense conversation that anything you say could fan the flames. Further, the attack may not even be about you. They could just be having a bad day.
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You don’t have to accept anyone’s inappropriate behavior especially if it crosses the line into disrespect and intimidation. If they are speaking to you harshly, be assertive and request that they do not talk to you that way. Let them know what behavior will not tolerate from them and what you expect from them if you are to work together successfully. If they refuse to abide by your boundaries, you may need to involve your manager to establish and maintain professional boundaries for this person.
Listen and Read Between the Lines
Not everyone is good at communicating their needs in clear and uncertain terms. During any difficult interaction, listen carefully. They may be frustrated because they are having trouble expressing what they need. Keep listening and asking questions to clarify what they are saying. Repeat back to them what you think you heard them say and ask if it is correct. If it is not accurate, keep working with them and asking more questions until you gain understanding. In that way, you can help ease some of their frustration and get to the bottom of what they need.
If you are still having trouble figuring out what they need, consider involving an unbiased third party to help interpret and moderate the discussion. Perhaps another person’s perspective can help settle issues on both sides.
Focus on the Solution Not the Problem
Is there a way you can compromise with the person? Always seek to create a win-win situation for both parties. Don’t let the discussion venture into blame, anger or harping on something that happened in the past. Allowing a discussion to get out of hand only builds more anger and resentment on both sides. Instead, keep things focused on the issue at hand and what can be done to resolve the situation. o
Ideally, you should do all you can to get them engaged in solving the problem. Don’t dictate what you believe is the best solution. Ask for the person’s ideas on how to make the situation better. If they don’t have any suggestions, you make a few recommendations and see what they think. Make the discussion interactive and let them know you value their input. Be willing to accept their input, just as you would expect them to do for you. Approaching things this way helps build your negotiation, conflict resolution and team building skills all at once.
Let it Go
Sometimes, there is no compromise when it difficult person. No matter what you say, there might be no way to appease them. In that case, you may have to let it go. Ask yourself if making your point is worth the time and effort. If not, don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a situation that takes drains your energy and takes you away from your job. Keep your attention focused on your job and try to limit interaction with them as much as possible.
Perhaps you’ve tried working things out to no avail. Maybe ignoring the individual isn’t’ an option. In that case, you’ll need to involve your manager. They may be the only one who can help negotiate the problem and set guidelines for how to keep future interactions positive. Keep in mind that escalating to your manager should be the exception, not the rule. You don’t want to give the impression that you can’t handle conflict with your teammates.
Try everything you can before you use this option. When you approach your boss, have a list of the tactics you have tried and their results. Express to your manager why it is a frustration for you and express what you need from the situation. Be clear about the problem and refrain from badmouthing your coworker. Stick to observable facts so that there is no question about the exact nature of the issue.
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