HR Headaches Series: How to Cope With Difficult Personality Types at Work

We’ve all had to deal with them — bosses, co-workers, and clients who are just plain difficult. Here are 7 tips to help you cope with difficult personalities in the workplace.

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HR Headaches

As a company grows, it will likely start to hire more people. This is great for the company and staff alike. However, as time goes on you’ll eventually get that one employee who just isn’t fitting in.

You know, the one who’s constantly complaining about everything. Who struggles to work collaboratively with their team, or offends those they work with.

There are many reasons why this happens, but there’s really only two ways of dealing with these difficult personality types: let them go or try to work through their issues with them.

It can be tempting to just fire someone when they’re not working out, but what if they have some redeeming qualities? What if they’re actually good at their job?

There are always ways you can better collaborate with these individuals. Here are 7 tips you can try to cope with difficult personality types.

1. Give yourself boundaries

Boundaries are “a statement of needs or desires that sets the stage for parameters and expectations of how you are to be treated in your relationship with others,” according to New York Times best-selling author Nedra Glover Tawwab.

When dealing with a difficult person at work, boundaries can look like minimizing the amount of contact you have with them and limiting interactions to just work.

It can also mean practicing “no” statements with them. We all have the power to say “no” and push back on requests that come in, especially when coming from someone difficult. When going this route, always explain why you’re saying no, and make a recommendation for them to successfully redirect the task or take it on themselves.

2. Create buffers when needed

If you’re an employee dealing with a difficult colleague, you can ask your manager or another colleague to join you in meetings in order to diffuse any tension and also be there to witness or document any inappropriate behavior.

If you’re a manager trying to deal with a difficult employee, try and give them the tasks where they thrive on their own while minimizing the group work they’re involved with.

While some employees may be strong individual contributors, their ability to work with others may not always line up. This does not make them any less valuable, rather, they just require a different working environment.

While some employees may be strong individual contributors, their ability to work with others may not always line up. This does not make them any less valuable, rather, they just require a different working environment.

3. Don’t sink to their level, and (try) to let it roll off your back

If an employee barks at you, you don’t need to bark back. Remember that fueling a fire just makes a bigger fire. Rather, do your best to take their difficult actions in stride and let it roll off your back. Remember, their difficult behavior likely has nothing to do with you, and more to do with their own internal struggles.

If you catch yourself heating up in response to an interaction you’ve had with a difficult person, take a deep breath. Before responding from an emotionally charged position, get back to your calm and centred place so you don’t say anything you regret. The more you respond from a calm place, the more power you can hold in the conversation.

4. Meditate before speaking or working with them

Getting into a calm headspace before interacting with a difficult person will help you be less reactive to their attacks. You can try repeating personal mantras before speaking with them to remind yourself of how you want to behave.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

For example you might repeat the famous Viktor E. Frankl quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Choose the mindset you wish to put forward when you know you have an upcoming meeting with someone you find difficult to work with.

5. Try and understand their position

The best thing you can do in any conflict is to practice empathy and understand the other person’s position. This will help give you insights into why a person acts the way that they do.

For example, you may find a manager you work with difficult, but when you learn more about their situation you realize that their direct manager is putting them under a lot of pressure.

By taking time to understand their position, you may also learn something new that you’ve not previously considered.

Take the time to be kind to this person, even if it can be difficult. Do something to help them out, build up some dollars in their emotional bank to help build rapport and soften up things.

6. Remember that it’s just work

If there is nothing you can do to mitigate the situation, remember that it’s just work and this person is not someone you need to deal with once you clock out.

Do your best to keep this mindset and don’t let this person’s behaviors seep into your personal life.

7. Address their behaviors if it gets in the way of performance

It’s also possible that this difficult character trait or behavior might be a total blind spot for this employee. If you can find a way to bring this behavior to light using a calm and empathic communication style (check out the non-violent communication method), they may thank you for pointing this out.

If you’ve found yourself in a difficult work situation with one of your co-workers or clients, we hope these tips will help you navigate these uncomfortable situations and keep working more productively.

Have any advice? Share it with our community by becoming a member (it’s free) and post on our Q&A forum.

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