12 Effective ways to deal with difficult people in the workplace
From time to time you will come across people who take up enormous amounts of your time with having to manage their difficult behavior. The problem with having to deal with difficult behavior is the impact it has on you, your people, your sales and your customers.
Difficult behavior can destroy the morale of a team, of a person and a business if left unchecked.
It’s important to realize that you cannot change another person, you can only deal with their behavior. Dealing with difficult behavior can not only be a time consuming task, it generally disrupts the natural flow of any relationship.
To effectively deal with the difficult person we have to make their behavior the target we deal with because in reality, we can’t change a person but we can influence their behavior by how we respond to it.
Types of difficult behavior?
It helps to look at what influences a person’s behavior patterns. We tend to repeat behavior which give some form of reward and reduce behaviors that don’t reward. If someone is difficult in their behavior with others, it normally indicates that for that person behaving in a difficult manner means they are more successful at getting what they want than behaving in a more appropriate manner.
Difficult behavior is normally linked to a person’s sense of power and control. This type of behavior will continue when the person using it, finds that it helps them maintain their power or control in their dealings with others.
There are a number of difficult behaviors to consider.
Moaning and complaining
A person using this behavior pattern either moans or complains to you or about you whenever an opportunity arises. The slightest issue becomes a great issue and source of complaint. They will often want someone to take full responsibility for their problems and may attempt to make others feel guilty.
A person using this behavior pattern usually wants an audience and may consider you to be fair game. They might demand great chunks of your time which you should not be prepared to give. Sometimes you can begin to feel guilty if you don’t pay them attention.
Angry or aggressive person
A person using this behavior pattern tends to want everything their own way and they want it now! They can be very explosive and lose their temper if they don’t get what they want. They tend to treat other people in a rude, ill-mannered and patronizing way. Through their life this is what worked for them because that’s the way they have learned to manipulate others.
A person using this behavior pattern tries to achieve their objectives by attempting to manipulate others in some way. Common patterns of manipulations are:
- Personal attacks – making comments that criticize you.
- Threats – making threats they will complain about you to other people or take the matter further.
- Other person approach – telling you that someone else is very upset about something.
- False information – providing you with incomplete or inaccurate facts about the situation.
- Name dropping – using the name of an important person to get something extra or to get their way.
- Inadequacy – using poor performance to avoid tasks.
People with difficult behavior generally won’t change because they don’t think they are being unreasonable! They feel they have the right to their opinions and they don’t have to change. They expect YOU to change.
How to handle difficult behavior
Our natural reaction when confronted by people who present with difficult behavior patterns is a “stress reaction.” When affected by stress, the fight or flight response kicks in which is an instinctive mechanism we use to protect ourselves and survive the situation. This can cause us an even greater problem is as the fight reaction may escalate into a physical assault or very heated argument making the situation worse. If we respond with a flight reaction with submissive or passive behaviors, this can result in the difficult behavior becoming even more intense.
A more effective way of handling difficult behavior is to “respond” to the behavior in a logical rational manner which allows you to make a conscious decision on how to deal with the situation rather than allow your fight or flight responses to take over.
Not everyone needs to talk things over in order to best manage a difficult situation because people don’t stress and worry exactly the same way. Some people go quiet and withdrawn other people get irritable and explode at the slightest provocation. Depending on their level of anxiety, they may react with a mixture of both.
It can be very difficult knowing what the best approach is when dealing with someone who is upset. This can be particularly hard to assess when you might also be under stress with the different pressures of running a business. When you can’t change a person’s difficult behavior, it’s important for you to have a strategy to cope, manage and control the behavior accordingly.
1. Use problem solving language
Turn the situation around by using positive and clear language to say what you mean. This strategy encourages the difficult person to cooperate with you instead. The aim is to reduce the conflict by getting to the basis of the issue rather than dwell on negatives.
2. Communicate clearly
By listening intently and clarifying the situation by feeding back what the difficult person has said, you both come to an understanding of what the person is actually saying. It also helps to clarify your own thoughts to ensure that you are equally heard and understood.
3. Be aware of your body language
People have a tendency to react to what we do rather than what we say. Words only make up 7% of how we communicate whereas 55% of our communication is through our body language. Be conscious of what non-verbal messages we are sending when dealing with people who exhibit difficult behavior.
4. Maintain emotional control
It’s easy to get drawn into an emotional response when dealing with difficult behavior. If you can learn to respond rather than react this will have a better outcome.
5. Allow people to save face
Even when the other person is wrong in their facts and information, resist the temptation to tell them so. This response will only exacerbate the situation due to hurt egos. Unless there is a legal or regulatory issue, avoid getting hooked into arguments of who is right or wrong.
6. Ignore or manage negative comments
Some difficult people use this strategy to get what they want faster or as means of putting you down and devaluing you
7. Take on assertive body language
Using your body language to maintain posture is another effective strategy in dealing with difficult people.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Avoid physical contact.
- Consciously protect your personal space.
- Maintain an assertive stance with one foot behind the other rather than side-by-side.
- Use open conciliatory gestures rather than closed gestures.
- Keep movement to a minimum with a deliberate motion rather than hurried movements.
- If feeling overwhelmed – lock your knees.
8. Agree with what’s accurate.
When criticism has some validity, calmly admit you are wrong without feeling guilty. Move on to what needs to happen in the future. “You are right Joseph; we did lose your paperwork. That’s an area we need to improve our systems and processes.”
9. Send an “I” message
By sending an “I” message, it gives your point of view of the situation. Example, “I don’t find that a problem Joseph”.
10. Deflect the criticism.
Deflecting the criticism is useful when the criticism or comments are not important or you are unlikely to persuade the other person to change their point of view. Example; “Thank you for sharing your opinion Joseph, I’ll pass the information onto the team”.
11. Avoid words or actions that antagonizes the other person
There are times when an angry person may make moves towards physical aggression. If this happens, avoid any words or actions which may antagonize the person further. Avoid finger pointing and challenging comments.
If you feel in danger, either seek assistance immediately or remove yourself from the situation and call security or the police if appropriate.
12. Actively listen to feelings of anger and hostility
Active listening is always the best way to deal with anger and hostility. Paraphrasing and reflecting back on why they are angry hostile along with why they are feeling angry and hostile can lead you to a quick solution.
Listen to what they have to say about their feelings of anger and hostility. Everyone has a right to feel angry – they just don’t always go about expressing it the right way. So if you find yourself in a situation where a person is angry or hostile, consider the following.
- Don’t take it personally – it might not be about you it might be triggered by other stressors in their life.
- Listen actively looking for the meaning behind the words and behavior.
- Paraphrase and reflect back your understanding as to what triggered the anger or hostility.
- Use empathetic listening until their feeling subside.
- Adopt a problem solving approach if appropriate.
- If they are reasonably rational, focus on the specific points they are making.
- Find out what the person wants or needs.
- Ask for time to gather further information or work out a solution.
If the person continues to be angry or hostile you might need to remove yourself to both allow them to cool down or ensure you are not in danger.
On a final note
When you learn to manage difficult behavior, as an organization you become more productive and have happier employees. With happier employees, you end up with happier customers.
In a Nutshell
The four most common types of difficult behavior are:
- Moaning and complaining
- Constant talking
- Anger and aggression
To manage difficult behavior:
- Use problem solving language
- Communicate clearly
- Be aware of their body language
- Maintain emotional control
- Allow people to save face
- Ignore or manage negative comments
- Be assertive
- Agree with what is accurate
- Send an I message
- Deflect the criticism
- Avoid words or actions that antagonizes the other person
- Actively listen to feelings of anger and hostility