Sooner or later everyone has to cope with someone who makes their life difficult – bosses, colleagues, friends, or relatives. It’s easy to lose control, snap at the person and let the entire situation dissolve into recrimination and anger. But there are strategies you can employ on how to deal with difficult people, and using these techniques means the encounter ends more smoothly for everyone involved, even the person who’s causing problems.
How to deal with difficult people
Let’s use the example of a colleague, someone who is, perhaps, moody and tough to get along with. There is little to be gained by refusing to deal with them; after all, you’re a co-worker, not a boss. What to do? If the colleague comes to work gloomy and silent or worse, takes credit for your idea, how should you handle it?
Most importantly, don’t get angry. That’s like pouring gasoline on a flame; it makes the situation worse. Try using humor to diffuse awkward moments. Ask yourself what might be at the root of a temperamental outburst or sulky silence. Try to have empathy. But if he’s taking credit for an idea you had, that’s a different story; it has to be dealt with, preferably by airing your grievance openly. Don’t answer anger with anger and don’t make a professional problem into a personal one. Make clear your issue, and if necessary, go to a superior to demonstrate that the work, the idea, was yours. No one likes a “tattle tale,” but if you want due credit for work you’ve done, the problem has to be addressed.
Ask yourself the real reason for the behavior. Perhaps this person has problems at home, or financial problems that are causing the short-tempered outbursts. We can never know what’s truly going on in other people’s lives, particularly at work. So give your colleague the benefit of the doubt, try to resolve the issue and then move on. Time is too precious to devote hours to wondering what is going on with this kind of person. You might even have to minimize contact, if possible. If that’s not a reasonable solution, do your best to deal with him calmly, then problem-solve one issue at a time. It’s impossible to know whether your interactions with that person will give you trouble, so take it, quite literally, one day at a time.
What if it’s a friend? Let’s say, for example, you know someone who is chronically late, and you’re always five minutes early for lunch or a shopping date. That kind of issue can be resolved by being candid, calm and rational, and not allowing your temper to flare. State your case, ask why it happens, and suggest ways you can resolve the issue together. What matters here is not making the problem larger than it is; slight tardiness isn’t worth losing a valued friend, right? Keep it in perspective.
Dealing with difficult people isn’t easy; it takes maturity, inner strength, and wisdom. But if you pause, take a breath and wait to react, rather than getting emotional, you will find it easier to respond to the most difficult situation thrown at you. After all, the last thing you want is for someone in your life to describe you as difficult, right?