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Tips for Dealing with Difficult People at Work

WORKING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE It happens to all of us. Occasionally we will have to work with people with whom we just don’t connect. You may not have anything in common with them, or they may just be difficult and contrary. But for your own good, for the sake of your job and company, it's essential you maintain a professional relationship with them. Not all relationships will be great; but you can do your best to make sure they are, at least, workable. Many people say they love their jobs; it's the people they work with they can't stand. They don’t want to put forth the effort to do this. They would rather seek a job somewhere else with different and hopefully less difficult. Finding jobs is not easy, and another, more significant reason to try to get along with difficult people, is that the problem that made you want to leave in the first place — an inability to get along with some people — is likely to follow you to your next job. So, how do you give your best effort? First of all, make an effort to get to know the person. They will be generally aware that things are not on the best of terms, so you can help improve the situation by making the first move. You can start a genuine and kind conversation with the person, or invite him/her out to coffee or lunch. During the conversation, try not to assume or be too guarded. Believe the best. Ask about their background, interests and past successes. Instead of focusing on your differences, focus on finding things that you have in common. As you continue to work on your leadership and Emotional Intelligence, you will be able to put yourself in someone else’s situation and show real empathy. As you grow in genuine respect for others, they will feel it. You will be able to help them feel good about themselves, and they will increasingly enjoy spending time with you. Many workplace conflicts are born out of fear: we are afraid to say or do the wrong thing, afraid of not living up to standards and expectations, we fear competition, and fear layoffs or unemployment. These fears can lead us to panic and do things that are counter-productive and destructive. Work on your own self-confidence, and practice focusing on the best about yourself and others. Have you ever consciously realized that you spend more time with your co-workers than you actually do your family? And your didn’t CHOOSE your co-workers. You have disagreements with the people you love and have chosen, so obviously you will sometimes disagree as well with your co-workers. Different personalities, varied work styles, and financial stresses can cause hurt feelings, sniping, gossiping, an inability to communicate productively. Plan ahead how you will minimize conflict and deal with it. Be proactive. Susan Shearouse, author of Conflict 101, advises:

  • Don't hide behind email. I find that the less I want to talk to someone, the more tempted I am to use email. Without face-to-face communication trust erodes and miscommunications multiply.

  • Be patient. Resolving conflict with someone often takes time. Forgiveness and rebuilding trust isn’t usually quick, but is necessary and worth it.

  • Let go of your grudges . Do you need to set more boundaries? What should you do to keep such a conflict from arising again? Learning to let go of grudges and trying to learn from a workplace disagreement can free you from past hurts and help you look for new learning opportunities.

  • Keep it in perspective. Learning to sometimes laugh at your mistakes and smile more can create positive energy around you and make you more approachable.

Make your laughter about yourself, not others. Experiencing difficulties in relationships is inevitable at work. But you can handle them and actutlaly grow from them. It is necessary for a satisfying and successful career. Next time, let’s look at some specific kinds of difficult people.

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