7 Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People at Work

No matter what industry you work in, sooner or later you are bound to deal with at least one very difficult person at work. Sometimes the difficult person is a customer, sometimes a coworker, and in some cases the difficult person is even a manager. While the exact method for dealing with the person may vary slightly depending on their position and the specific troubles, there are some general strategies that can be applied to most situations with difficult people.

  1. Stay Calm and Focused
    Difficult people can easily derail even the most reasonable and even tempered employee, but flying off the handle never improves the situation. By staying calm and focused on the task at hand, you may help to defuse the situation and calm the difficult person down.
  2. See From the Other Person’s Eyes
    Being yelled at or spoken to gruffly causes a natural defensive instinct to kick in. However, allowing this reaction to dictate the situation can cause escalation and make it difficult to remain productive. Being compassionate and trying to understand where the other person is coming from may help you to determine how best to approach the issue at hand.
  3. Act with Respect
    Maintaining a respectful attitude towards a difficult customer or coworker can be hard when it feels like the person is directly attacking you, but being disrespectful can aggravate the person. By adding fuel to the fire, you may also find yourself taking some of the blame and penalty. Maintaining respect for the person will help keep the situation civil and may make it easier to repair the relationship later on.
  4. Help the Person Empathize with You
    Explaining where you are coming from can make a world of difference in some situations. In some cases, people that seem difficult may be giving resistance because they feel that you are being difficult. Working through a situation can help both you and the other person to understand where one another are coming from.
  5. Focus on Forward Motion
    Finding a positive solution for a problem can help to deflate a situation by removing the stress component. Difficult people are often really just stressed out or frustrated people, so helping them to resolve the source of that stress can put the focus where it belongs instead of on you.
  6. Separate from the Person
    It may seem like a grade school solution, but if a difficult person remains difficult in spite of attempts to work with them or understand them, it might be necessary to stay away from the person as much as possible. This may be easier in some workplaces and positions than others. If necessary, it may help to speak with management or human resources to set up alternating work schedules or to request office location changes.
  7. Escalate to Higher Authority
    Bringing a personal conflict to management should be the last resort for resolution, but may be necessary if the difficult person is impacting your ability to work. Management has authority to make changes and provide solutions above and beyond what is possible for employees, so reporting to management can help to definitively resolve issues with difficult people.

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