Dealing With Difficult Co-Workers

By Louise Bauer Davoli

Working with a difficult personality or individual is challenging at best and can make us positively miserable at work. This type of situation certainly is uncomfortable and can create quite a bit of drama in our lives. Difficult people come in a number of sizes and varieties and no workplace is without them. How to approach a difficult person and address a tough circumstance depends on your own self-awareness, self-esteem, your confidence and professional courage. Dealing with tricky people is simpler when the individual is just generally intolerable or when the behavior affects more than one person. Dealing with a difficult person is much tougher when they are attacking you or your professional contribution.

Difficult Characteristics:

-- Bad attitude-- Ruthless critic-- Avoiders-- Accommodators

Dealing with difficult people begins with identifying and naming the behaviors that are so infuriating and drive you positively nuts and also trigger strong reactions in you. Don't take anything personally. This simple straightforward statement sounds easy enough but in the heat of an emotionally charged exchange can be challenging to remember. The premise with not taking anything personally is coming to grips with the idea that nothing other people do is because of you. What others might say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own story of how they see life. When you are resilient to the beliefs, story, judgments and actions of others, you won't be the victim of pointless distress.

Separate the person from the behavior. How they act drives you crazy. Okay, now stepping back from your own experience and "story" consider from their perspective, what exactly is it that they are trying to achieve by engaging in that annoying behavior? It's doubtful that the individual's intention is to drive you crazy. It may be hard to believe, but just like you, the person behind each of these difficult behaviors has a positive intention. Their intention may be completely separate from the result they are getting, but the positive intention is there nonetheless. Look for and identify the potential intention that the difficult person is trying to cultivate, and then you can talk with the individual about options that work for both of you.

Let's say you are dealing with a ruthless critic, one approach may be to say to the detractor, I can see that you are trying to make a contribution to the project. However, for me, it works better when you talk about some of the positive aspects regarding the project before you jump in with the critique that addresses the deficiencies.

Recommendations for Addressing the Bad Behavior:

-- Check in with yourself-- Brainstorm options-- Deal with it-- It's not about you-- Ask questions

If you don't know what the person is trying to achieve, instead of making an assumption about what you think is going on, ask them. For example, I notice that you blah, blah, blah, what is that intended to do? Or what's your objective with blah, blah, blah behavior? Continue exploring with the individual what their rationale/reasoning is for the annoying behavior and you will probably discover what their positive intention is behind the behavior.