Working with difficult people can be challenging, especially when they’re your client, colleagues or even your boss! And if you have to deal with them regularly and / or they have the ability to influence your career, it’s even more important to know how to handle them.
I’ve had situations in my career when I’ve had to bite my lip, take a deep breath and focus on the big picture so here are a few of my hints and tips.
1. Stay calm: Absolutely critical but difficult to do. I take a few deep breaths, focus on the issue at hand and try to remember that while their behaviour is not my problem, dealing with the situation at hand is shared with them.
2. Actively listen: Try to listen actively to the other person and understand their point of view. By looking beyond the behaviour, you can try focus on the underlying issues and take steps towards finding a way forward.
3. Be respectful: Always treat the person with respect. We will have bad days and while poor behaviour is never acceptable, you probably have no idea what is going on for them at that moment.
4. Don’t get defensive: While it can be easy to take it personally, always keep in mind that their behaviour is not your fault, it’s theirs.
5. Set clear boundaries: Know your boundaries – what are you willing to accept in terms of someone else’s behaviour? If the other person steps over them, it’s important to let them know in a respectful and calm way that their behaviour is not acceptable.
6. Recognise your own behaviours: Be aware of how you might react or are reacting in the situation. Are you subconsciously responding to their behaviour in a way that makes the situation worse? For example, I know that when someone unfairly starts blaming me for something going wrong, my immediate response is to go very quiet and disengage, which can lead to the other person claiming that I’m ignoring them. By following the above hints, you can minimise this risk but always be sensitive to it.
7. Look for common ground: Try to find common ground with the person and identify areas of agreement.
8. Seek support: If the situation becomes too difficult to handle on your own, seek support from your manager, colleague, or HR.
It’s very likely that you’ll have to deal with kinds of difficult people during your career and like any other skill, it can be developed over time. When you get a moment, reflect on your previous interactions with difficult people and work out what you did well, what you could have done better, and what you might try next time you find yourself in a similar situation.
In my experience, the secret to successfully dealing with difficult people is to be prepared. And that’s a lifelong journey.
Take control of your career.