No matter who you are, you’re likely to cross paths with people who really try your patience. These difficult people can vary in different parts of your life. If you find yourself dealing with difficult people, it’s important to learn strategies to keep your sanity intact.
Start out by examining yourself.
Are you sure that the other person is really the problem and that you’re not overreacting? Have you always experienced difficulty with the same type of person or actions? Does a pattern exist for you in your interaction with coworkers? Do you recognize that you have hot buttons that are easily pushed? (We all do, you know.) Always start with self-examination to determine that the object of your attention really is a difficult person’s actions.
Explore what you are experiencing with a trusted friend or colleague.
Brainstorm ways to address the situation. When you are the object of an attack, or your boss appears to support the dysfunctional actions of a coworker, it is often difficult to objectively assess your options.
Approach the person with whom you are having the problem for a private discussion.
Talk to them about what you are experiencing in “I” messages (Using “I” messages is a communication approach that focuses on your experience of the situation rather than on attacking or accusing the other person.) You can also explain to your coworker the impact of their actions on you. (see attached)
Follow up after the initial discussion.
Has the behavior changed? Gotten better? Or worse? Determine whether a follow-up discussion is needed. Determine whether a follow-up discussion will have any impact. Decide if you want to continue to confront the difficult person by yourself. Become a peacemaker. If you answer, “yes,” to these questions, hold another discussion. If not, escalate and move to the next idea.
The only thing that you can control is your reaction to others.
Many times others try to bring out the worst in us. Changing our predictable reactions will sometimes curtail the difficult coworker.
If these approaches fail to work, try to limit the difficult person’s access to you.
Protect the needs of your business, but avoid working with the person when possible. Leave voluntary committees, choose projects he or she does not impact. Don’t hurt your own career or your business, but avoidance is an option.
The “I” Message
When you have a problem with another person, the best first step is to talk to him or her about it rather than taking it up the ladder or laying it in someone else’s lap. The reason we don’t do this is that it’s usually too hard being honest with someone about what you think is their problem without making them defensive.
In order to solve what is really your problem with the least amount of damage, begin with and “I” Message.
The ideal “I” Message includes the following four elements, arranged in any order:
An objective description of the problem.
Your feelings about that behavior.
The tangible business-related effect it has on you.
FIND A SOLUTION:
Open the door to resolving the problem. Begin by asking them what they think would work.
A Great Example of using the “I” Message:
You’ve come to work every day this week at 8:30 instead of 8:00, and I see the rest of your team here at 8:00 waiting for you…I get really worried…because I am depending on your team to get me the data for the annual report and it looks like they can’t start on the project without you…What can we do about this?
“I” Message Practice
Think of a possible conflict you may face or have faced before, put together an “I” message using the below:
Write your “I” Message and these prompts in a journal you keep with you often. That way, you can have access to these reminders whenever you need!
Women’s Executive Board provides professional and personal development for executive women and facilitates both local (Oklahoma) and virtual peer executive groups called Boards.