Tips and Tricks for Dealing with Difficult People
March 16th, 2017
Learn to Play Nice
I think it’s safe to say that all of us, at one time or another, have had to deal with a difficult person at work. But the good news is, you do not have to let them get the better of you! Below are proven tactics that can help you get past a co-worker’s difficult behavior.
From Know-It-Alls to Hecklers
Everyone has met these people. You may not have taken the time to categorize them, but difficult people generally fall into the following categories according to a Huffington Post article:
- Talk hogs – dominate the discussion, either in a positive or negative way
- Know-it-alls – chime in whenever, about whatever, no matter what is being discussed
- Resenters – use dismissive hostility to make it known they would rather be anywhere else but at work
- Hecklers – use off-putting remarks, backhanded compliments, and tasteless jokes
- Gripers – constant complainers, always pointing out the negative side
No matter what kind of difficult behavior these people subscribe to, the air can be sucked right out of the room, and productivity screeches to a halt. It’s been said before and it will be said again, the only person you can truly control is you, so don’t let Debbie Downer or Steve the Bully get to you!
Don’t Let Them Push Your Buttons
There are four tactics to utilize to keep difficult people from getting a rise out of you:
- Keep emotion in check; stick to the facts of the situation, calmly state what you know, and what you can do to help
- Consider an alternative; in some cases it’s better to remove yourself from the situation (especially if the person just rubs you the wrong way and there is no way of getting past it) or engage a third party as an intermediary
- Don’t personalize it; when others are being difficult, sometimes the easiest course is to take it personally. Don’t; because it usually doesn’t have anything to do with you
- Collect yourself; for example, if you are conversing with a difficult person on the phone, pause and take a deep breath before responding, sometimes that moment makes all the difference in the world
Not matter what technique you may engage to deal with a difficult person, the situation may not be able to be diffused. In this case remember, only address the unwanted behavior, and not the person. No one benefits when it crosses the line and becomes personal.
I recently encountered a know-it-all when I was presenting to a group of about 35 individuals. She constantly interrupted and tried to correct me. It could have really rattled me, but I did not personalize it. I found out later that she does this to compensate for her own lack of self-esteem. I didn’t realize this until I personally witnessed her crying in front of another presenter. It took me back – I realized then that she was not the person who I thought she was.
Safety First, My Friends
Difficult can cross to scary before you know it, so be mindful of workplace safety for yourself and others. Remember the following:
- Ask for help from others
- Don’t get cornered
- Avoid being alone with a difficult person
- Try not to turn your back on a difficult person
- Don’t take it personally
Article by, Timothy Dimoff
Try These 3 Tricks When Working With Difficult People
March 9th, 2017
Yes, Don Corleone knew a thing or two about leadership. But dealing with other people’s egos is more complicated than Hollywood makes it look.
While many of us dream of leadership being that easy, we all realize, sooner or later, motivating others to comply with our requests is more complicated than Brando makes it look.
Like it or not, dealing and communicating with difficult people comes with being a leader. Whether it’s the business partner who wants too much or the employee who alienates his or her co-workers–learning to win an unfair fight is a critical skill set we all must obtain.
1. Deal with your own ego first.
Often, the fight is a battle with our own egos. Many times, as entrepreneurs, we feel we are the best, most competent person to get the job done, which makes us more likely to criticize others.
Keynote speaker and best-selling author Garrison Wynn says this need to condemn others is a major downfall of most leaders.
“If you criticize others’ ideas, they will almost never use yours, no matter how good they are,” said Wynn. “Entrepreneurs must decide whether they want to be right or be successful. The key is to practice ego-management.”
2. Make an agreement to change behavior.
Most executives go into confrontations hoping to teach people about the grave error of their ways.
“The problem of course is our righteousness has very little influence in the eyes of the difficult person,” says Wynn. Instead, Wynn recommends using this approach:
“I’ve been considering some of the problems we’ve been having and I think some of it is me. If I can get you to stop <insert the bad behavior here>, I will let you tell me how I can manage you better. Sound good?”
This works for a few reasons. One, the person’s ego won’t be bruised, as it alleviates them from being accountable. Two, this method levels the playing field and makes difficult people feel more powerful, thereby making them more compliant. “People want to be validated and feel heard,” says Wynn.
“While this works almost every time–in my experience–most executives won’t use this approach because they don’t want to take the responsibility for other people’s shortcomings. If you can get past it, you can master the worst type of personalities brilliantly.”
3. Provide the positive validation they seek.
While it may seem counterintuitive to take responsibility away from difficult people and put the onus on ourselves, Wynn’s theory is backed by research. According to a 2015 survey done by Psychology Today, 55 percent of people feel their self-worth is, more often than not, tied to what other people think of them.
And, as Oprah Winfrey famously said in a commencement speech at Harvard University, “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people, and all 30,000 had one thing in common–they all wanted validation…They want to know, do you hear me? Do you see me? Does what I say mean anything to you?”
To motivate people to change, validate their existing knowledge and demonstrate how it matches up with the new behavior you want them to embrace.
Peter Shankman, a serial entrepreneur, speaker and founder of Shankminds.com, gave me some sage advice for handling negative people. He said an old skydiving instructor told him, “If you can’t change the people around–change the people around you.”
“People are not out to screw you over,” said Shankman. “They are just out to better themselves. Once you understand that, it makes other people’s bad behavior more palatable.”
Recognizing insecurities, in yourself and in others, is a skill developed over time. It takes patience, understanding and a little creative problem solving. Master it, and you will hold all the secrets for dealing with difficult people.
Dealing with difficult people: A guide
February 20th, 2017
Difficult people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons. Either way, they create unnecessary complexity, strife, and worst of all stress.
Studies have long shown that stress can have a lasting, negative impact on the brain. Exposure to even a few days of stress compromises the effectiveness of neurons in the hippocampus—an important brain area responsible for reasoning and memory. Weeks of stress cause reversible damage to neuronal dendrites (the small “arms” that brain cells use to communicate with each other), and months of stress can permanently destroy neurons. Stress is a formidable threat to your success—when stress gets out of control, your brain and your performance suffer.
Most sources of stress at work are easy to identify. If your non-profit is working to land a grant that your organization needs to function, you’re bound to feel stress and likely know how to manage it. It’s the unexpected sources of stress that take you by surprise and harm you the most.
Recent research from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions—the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with difficult people—caused subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response. Whether it’s negativity, cruelty, the victim syndrome, or just plain craziness, difficult people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs.
The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. One of their greatest gifts is the ability to neutralize difficult people. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ to keep difficult people at bay.
While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that smart people employ when dealing with difficult people, what follows are some of the best. To deal with difficult people effectively, you need an approach that enables you, across the board, to control what you can and eliminate what you can’t. The important thing to remember is that you are in control of far more than you realize.
They set limits. Complainers and negative people are bad news because they wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions. They want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. People often feel pressure to listen to complainers because they don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into their negative emotional spiral.
You can avoid this only by setting limits and distancing yourself when necessary. Think of it this way: if the complainer were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers. A great way to set limits is to ask complainers how they intend to fix the problem. They will either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a productive direction.
They rise above. Difficult people drive you crazy because their behavior is so irrational. Make no mistake about it; their behavior truly goes against reason. So why do you allow yourself to respond to them emotionally and get sucked into the mix? The more irrational and off-base someone is, the easier it should be for you to remove yourself from their traps. Quit trying to beat them at their own game. Distance yourself from them emotionally and approach your interactions like they’re a science project (or you’re their shrink, if you prefer the analogy). You don’t need to respond to the emotional chaos—only the facts.
They stay aware of their emotions. Maintaining an emotional distance requires awareness. You can’t stop someone from pushing your buttons if you don’t recognize when it’s happening. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in situations where you’ll need to regroup and choose the best way forward. This is fine and you shouldn’t be afraid to buy yourself some time to do so.
Think of it this way—if a mentally unstable person approaches you on the street and tells you he’s John F. Kennedy, you’re unlikely to set him straight. When you find yourself with a coworker who is engaged in similarly derailed thinking, sometimes it’s best to just smile and nod. If you’re going to have to straighten them out, it’s better to give yourself some time to plan the best way to go about it.
They establish boundaries. This is the area where most people tend to sell themselves short. They feel like because they work or live with someone, they have no way to control the chaos. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Once you’ve found your way to Rise Above a person, you’ll begin to find their behavior more predictable and easier to understand. This will equip you to think rationally about when and where you have to put up with them and when you don’t. For example, even if you work with someone closely on a project team, that doesn’t mean that you need to have the same level of one-on-one interaction with them that you have with other team members.
You can establish a boundary, but you’ll have to do so consciously and proactively. If you let things happen naturally, you are bound to find yourself constantly embroiled in difficult conversations. If you set boundaries and decide when and where you’ll engage a difficult person, you can control much of the chaos. The only trick is to stick to your guns and keep boundaries in place when the person tries to encroach upon them, which they will.
They don’t die in the fight. Smart people know how important it is to live to fight another day, especially when your foe is a toxic individual. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged. When you read and respond to your emotions, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.
They don’t focus on problems—only solutions. Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress. When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and reduces stress.
When it comes to toxic people, fixating on how crazy and difficult they are gives them power over you. Quit thinking about how troubling your difficult person is, and focus instead on how you’re going to go about handling them. This makes you more effective by putting you in control, and it will reduce the amount of stress you experience when interacting with them.
They don’t forget. Emotionally intelligent people are quick to forgive, but that doesn’t mean that they forget. Forgiveness requires letting go of what’s happened so that you can move on. It doesn’t mean you’ll give a wrongdoer another chance. Smart people are unwilling to be bogged down unnecessarily by others’ mistakes, so they let them go quickly and are assertive in protecting themselves from future harm.
They squash negative self-talk. Sometimes you absorb the negativity of other people. There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about how someone is treating you, but your self-talk (the thoughts you have about your feelings) can either intensify the negativity or help you move past it. Negative self-talk is unrealistic, unnecessary, and self-defeating. It sends you into a downward emotional spiral that is difficult to pull out of. You should avoid negative self-talk at all costs.
They get some sleep. I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. A good night’s sleep makes you more positive, creative, and proactive in your approach to toxic people, giving you the perspective you need to deal effectively with them.
They use their support system. It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To deal with toxic people, you need to recognize the weaknesses in your approach to them. This means tapping into your support system to gain perspective on a challenging person. Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as explaining the situation can lead to a new perspective. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation.
Before you get this system to work brilliantly, you’re going to have to pass some tests. Most of the time, you will find yourself tested by touchy interactions with problem people. Thankfully, the plasticity of the brain allows it to mold and change as you practice new behaviors, even when you fail. Implementing these healthy, stress-relieving techniques for dealing with difficult people will train your brain to handle stress more effectively and decrease the likelihood of ill effects.
Travis Bradberry, President, TalentSmart