7 Ways to Handle Difficult People at Work
Updated By Staff Writer on April 27, 2020
An HR professional has to deal with all kinds of people—including those who may be a little more challenging to work with. Whether you’re helping challenging employees work better with others in the office, giving trainings, or dealing with coworkers, knowing how to get along with difficult people at work is an important skill for anyone in human resources.
So how do you handle coworkers who make others feel frustrated, powerless, or upset? It helps to understand the various types of difficult people you might encounter so you can handle each situation carefully and skillfully.
TYPES OF DIFFICULT PEOPLE
There are a lot of different ways someone can be challenging to be around. Knowing the types of difficult people out there can help you understand their motivations, predict their behavior, and hopefully work well with them.
For example, what is an egotistical person like? And how can you best get along? We cover them below, along with some of the other most difficult types of people.
- The Hostile person is angry and not afraid to let you know it. They could explode into a rage at the slightest provocation. They cannot stand being wrong and do not trust your opinion. At all.
- The Rejection-Sensitive person thinks you hate them. They believe that if you disagree with them, you think they are stupid or even worthless. They also assume that you ignore them on purpose.
- The Neurotic thinks that everything is hopelessly difficult and all problems are insurmountable. They believe that there is no acceptable solution, so all your ideas are futile.
- The Egotist assumes that they are one hundred percent correct at all times, so they see compromise as unacceptable. You must agree with an egotist’s opinions because any other reaction will not be tolerated.
Working with any of these types of people can be difficult and exhausting, especially because they may not understand how their behavior affects the people around them. Confronting these people about their behavior more often than not will backfire—most people don’t respond well to criticism, and this is especially true of people who are difficult to work with.
Because this person is in the office with you, you can’t simply avoid talking to and working with them. But there are some basic strategies you can use that will help you know how to deal with difficult people at work in a more productive way.
SEVEN WAYS TO GET ALONG WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE
Interacting with difficult people at work can leave you feeling frustrated and powerless. Follow these seven strategies to help you get along better and avoid difficulties in working with challenging personalities.
1. KEEP INTERACTIONS SHORT AND SWEET
The less time you spend with a difficult personality, the better. When you need to talk with this person, keep your interaction as short, quick, and to the point as possible. Limit your exposure, and you limit the opportunity for a frustrating exchange.
2. STAY ON TOPIC
Before heading over to talk with someone who is difficult, make sure you know the purpose of the conversation. Stay focused on the topic at hand, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can reason with them or try to be their friend.
3. KEEP THINGS STRICTLY BUSINESS
Making comments about your personal life or sharing opinions about non-work subjects can trigger negative reactions from difficult people. Head off these comments and avoid becoming the target of a difficult coworker by staying away from personal talk in the first place.
4. CHANGE THE SUBJECT
If your personal life or opinions do come up in conversation—or any other topics that could trigger either you or your challenging coworker—don’t be afraid to distract them by changing the topic. Pick something else to talk about that is unrelated to heated topics.
If your difficult coworker insists on discussing personal or political issues with you, set a boundary: let them know you don’t want to discuss those things with coworkers.
5. ACCEPT THEM
A difficult person is not likely to change—at least not easily, and definitely not because of you. If you approach your interactions with the goal of changing someone, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Simply accept your coworker for who they are, as they are. Doing so will be incredibly freeing for you.
6. AVOID TRIGGERS
You probably know from experience what topics trigger the uglier side of your difficult coworker. Avoid those triggers at all costs so you can steer clear of conversations and interactions you will regret.
7. DON’T TRY TO GET THEM TO SEE YOUR SIDE
You can’t rely on a difficult person to empathize with your experience or to see your side of the story. It doesn’t help to try to get them to see where you’re coming from, and attempting to do so will just make you feel worse.
HOW HR SKILLS CAN HELP
The overall best strategy to deal with any kind of difficult person is to remain calm and centered. Take your personal emotions out of the interaction as much as possible. You can’t always choose the type of people you work with, or how they treat you, but you can decide how to respond, what boundaries to set, and which topics to avoid with them.
These and other skills in working with other people are central to a career in human resources. If you are interested in developing these skills, consider a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in HR to help you get there.