What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are. It is the great secret. ~ Lao Tzu
I know about difficult people. In fact, I work exclusively with them.
I will never forget the attorney who would literally throw unsatisfactory legal briefs I had written back to me, explode with anger when I made a mistake and regularly told me he was unhappy with my work.
Having worked as an attorney and now in politics, I only deal with people who have strong, demanding and shall we say difficult personalities.
Well, they seem to be difficult to most but I have been successful in working with and for difficult people. Not because they’re any less difficult to me but because I’ve used the strategies I describe below.
This attorney I used to work for was my ‘guru’ in helping me overcome my apprehension to working with difficult people. He was the most difficult person I’ve ever worked for. I spent countless hours and sleepless nights putting curses on him through a voodoo doll I had purchased in his honor (just kidding boss!)
He was my ‘guru’ because he helped me figure out strategies to work with and survive under the authority of difficult people and today I will share these useful strategies with you.
7 Useful Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People at Work
Am I really suggesting you keep a low profile from your hard-to-please and hard-to-work-with boss? Yes!
Listen, absence makes the heart grow fonder. If you’re dealing with a difficult personality, stay far away and keep clear whenever you see this person roaming the hallways. Sometimes the less your paths cross, the more successful you’ll be in working with them.
2. They didn’t really mean it like that
There are pleasant, kind and gentle ways of communicating, as well as aggressive, negative and hurting ones. Why does the difficult person always opt for the latter?
There’s a certain kind of language you must understand to interpret the difficult person. You must take out the condescending tone, the sarcastic undertone and the hostility in the way they speak and find the true nature of their sentiments. What are they really trying to say, minus the hostility? Your language interpretation ability must reach a Buddha-like nature.
Try not to personalize or internalize the negativity from the difficult person. It’s not personal as much as you would like to think it is. The difficult person’s personality and behavior are their problem. Not yours.
3. Focus on your own work
To reduce the amount of time and energy you spend on the trying person, focus on your own duties, responsibilities, and work. Getting your work done and checking off your daily tasks will allow you to focus minimally on the negative hard-to-please person. By staying focused on the job at hand, you’ll have less reason or time to get tangled with the difficult person.
4. Ask for feedback and improvement
If you’re up for it and reach the divine level of interacting successfully with the difficult person, you’re always welcome to ask them how you can improve or do your work better.
This will encourage the tough-as-nails person you deal with become more of a mentor and soften up a little bit. They’ll start to be kinder in their language and more constructive in their feedback.
5. Do it their way
If the pain in the you-know-what person is a boss or the lead person for the project you’re working on, do this.
Do tasks their way – no questions asked. Don’t try to be clever, creative, or contrary. Just ask them what they want you to do. Or if they tell you, just do what’s being asked of you and they will be ecstatic. You’ll get the job done just as they wished and you’ll be the good soldier who wins points in the long run.
6. Talk about it
These strategies I’m asking you employ are not easy. It requires accessing your inner zen-like nature to counter the nastiness of your boss or colleague.
Create a support system at work and outside of work. Try to blow off steam by talking about how nutty your work situation is. Seek tips on how others would handle similar situations, strategize on how you could handle yourself better and in general, make light of the difficult person. By having a support system to talk about these issues, you’ll be able to vent in a healthy manner and be able to move forward more constructively.
One strategy which I’ve found particularly helpful is trying to outlast the bully or aggressor at work. I’ve tried a variety of ways to stay out of sight, out of their hair and keeping limited interaction with them. I’ve done this in the hopes of outlasting their behavior, their attitude and their dominant personality.
Regularly try to remind yourself, especially when yelled at or attacked that, ‘this too shall pass’. Think of each unpleasant encounter as a test of your ability to endure unpleasant people and situations and prevail! You can think of endurance of difficult people as building up your muscle for dealing up with even more difficult people in the future. And if you’re able to put up with difficult personalities over a period of time, it actually becomes easier.
You know what else? The difficult person actually starts warming up to you and starts trusting you. You’re one of the few people (maybe only person) they’re able to get along with and tolerate. You could become their confidante, favorite colleague and who knows – even friend!
In the workplace, your ability to tolerate strong and difficult personalities can be proportional to your success at work. The higher up you climb the officer ladder or the corporate ladder, the stronger personalities you’re going to find. The more you find strategies to manage these personalities, the more valuable you’ll be to them and the more success you’ll find in your own career.
Have you worked for a tough boss or colleague before? How did you survive? Share your insights by commenting below.