Difficult people in any organization can be a source of conflict, stress and an energy drain. However, many of the personality characteristics that make people difficult are simple human nature.

Often, transferring to a new job or firing a person is not feasible. Many organizations have to interact with a range of difficult people externally, from customers to other businesses. We often have to coexist with difficult people, but it does not mean that we have to suffer each interaction.

Below are 5 effective strategies for dealing with difficult people in the workplace. The dealing with difficult people training programs that we offer can further expound on these strategies for any organization that may be struggling with interpersonal conflicts.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

It’s so much easier to avoid circumstances in which you may have to negotiate or argue with someone with a challenging personality. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid conflict altogether of course, but if you don’t have anything valuable at stake, it’s always better to avoid a confrontation.

For example, debates about issues that aren’t relevant to work, personality conflicts, cultural differences, or political opinions aren’t worth getting into any sort of argument about.

A surprising number of interpersonal conflicts result from these types of irrelevant disagreements in which relationships are needlessly damaged and people lose sight of the bigger picture.

Look at Underlying Causes

Whether it is an employee who is easily irritated or a boss that has become unreasonably demanding, there is always an underlying cause that is resulting in the behavior.

Although it doesn’t excuse unacceptable behavior, it can be helpful to try to understand why someone may be difficult to deal with, especially if it is a recent behavior change that you may have noticed.

Show Them Their Mistakes

Difficult people often like to put the spotlight on others, focusing on their mistakes or shortcomings while minimizing or overlooking their own. One strategy for dealing with them is to show them where they have also been making mistakes and possibly contributing to the things they are unhappy with.

This strategy won’t work on everyone, but some difficult people are willing to admit their own mistakes once they realize that they have actually made them.

Use Humour to Diffuse the Situation

Humour can be a powerful tool to diffuse conflicts with difficult people and change the tone of a conversation to be more productive.

Humour is very situational, but referencing an inside joke, or self-deprecating humour in a tense situation can go a long way in easing things up, clearing heads and illuminating any unnecessary. Be careful to avoid sarcasm or mean-spirited humour.

Take Control of the Conversation

Many difficult people like to focus on one point over and over, talking about what’s wrong or complaining about their struggles, especially if you let them do it.

One strategy is to take control of the conversation and talk about what’s right or simply change the topic altogether if it’s not important. There are plenty of ways to start this type of transition such as, “Oh I forgot to mention” or “By the way.”

The Stitt Feld Handy Group is available for many types dealing with difficult people training programs to empower employees and managers with the tools to deal with challenging personalities.

Learn more about the programs we currently have available by calling 1-416-307-0000.