How to deal with difficult people at work – seven practical tips

It doesn’t matter what you do or how high you go, there’ll be points in your career where you have to work with people who are a bit… tricky.

Perhaps they’re terrible at organisation and always miss deadlines. Maybe they’re super knowledgeable, but rubbish at communication. Sometimes they’re perfectly fine in nearly all regards, but you just don’t click.

These are the people who make work a mind-numbing slog, who refuse to collaborate, who just won’t see things from your perspective, who constantly nit-pick, and on, and on.

As much as we might dream of these types of co-workers deciding to quit their jobs and start new lives far, far away from us, holding on to that hope isn’t a realistic solution. Instead, we need to learn how to work with these difficult people.

Helping us through this is workplace expert Salman Raza, who says there are a few things you can do…

Try to understand the person’s intentions

Don’t write off your colleague as someone whose life mission is to annoy you. What else is going on?

Salman tells Metro.co.uk: ‘People are rarely difficult for the sake of it. Tryto identify why they are behaving as they are.

‘What is stopping them from cooperating with you? Why aren’t they meeting deadlines? How can you help to resolve the situation? What can you do to meet their needs?’

Stay calm and treat them with respect

‘Losing your temper isn’t the answer and won’t get the desired result. It will in fact ignite their ego and will cause further conflict,’ notes Salman.

Try your hardest not to be rude, mean, or petty, even when this person is driving you around the bend. Think about your end goal: you want to get on with your work without all these bumps and snags, not end up in a fight or become a bully – no matter how difficult someone might be.

Explain your motives

Wait a minute – what if they think you’re being difficult to work with?

‘Let the person know your intentions behind what you are doing,’ Salman says. ‘Sometimes they might be resistant because they think you are being difficult with them!

‘Giving the full background of why you are doing something, why something is needed by a certain date or why something is happening, might help them empathize with your situation. Showing your vulnerability is a great way to get people on board.’

Build rapport

Salman advises: ‘Try to connect with your workmate on a personal level. Get to know them as people, and not just colleagues. Learn more about their hobbies, their family and their lives.

‘Really listen to what they say and try to respond in a thoughtful way. Good personal relationships can foster better working relationships.’

Ask other people for help

Don’t seethe all alone, letting your rage eat away at you. It’s worth chatting with other people to check you’re being reasonable – and see if they have any genius bits of advice to make the working relationship run a bit more smoothly.

Certain co-workers may have worked with this difficult person before and worked out the best way to navigate their quirks.

‘Ask your colleagues and managers for help,’ suggests Salman. ‘They may be able to see things from a different angle and share some light on how to approach the situation.

‘If appropriate, you can ask a close friend or family member for help as well. You never know if they have been in a similar situation until you ask.’

Focus on what can be done

‘Rather than dwelling on what you can’t change, focus on the actionable steps you can take to forward yourself in the situation,’ Salman tells us. ‘For example, if a colleague hands something in late, focus on what you can do to rectify the situation.’

Easier said than done, we know, but try to remind yourself of this as a mantra the next time you’re about to rage about how your colleague has screwed you over yet again.

Speak to your boss

Salman says: ‘When all else fails, speak to your manager. Sometimes, the only way to get someone to change is through someone senior speaking to them.’

Salman Raza is a management expert and the author of Life’s Non-Conformities: An Auditor’s Tale of Practical Application of Social, Emotional & Behavioral Strategies.

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