Terence Dean “Terry” Brooks, an American writer of fantasy fiction, once quipped, ”We are constantly being put to the test by trying circumstances and difficult people and problems not necessarily of our own making.”

I believe it is safe to say that no company or employee in the world can escape difficult colleagues and what one can only do is to just accept this fact of life. Difficult people can really ruin your day, stress you out, give you grief and anxiety, adversely affect your performance, and simply make each working day a living hell. Some people think that they can escape such kind of individuals by running away and transferring to another workplace only to find out that there is simply no escape. If not confronted head on, this kind of issue will drag down a company no matter how promising or stable it may seem to be. But why must we deal with difficult people? It is because the situation will not get better but, on the contrary, will get worse if left unaddressed.

The first thing to do is to start out by examining yourself. First make sure that your difficult co-worker is really the problem and not because you are not just overreacting. Look at the actions and the type of people that irk you and not on a particular person. Discover the behavioral pattern that makes your life difficult so that you can discover your own “hot buttons” that make you angry when pushed.

Brainstorm ways to address the situation with a trusted colleague or friend so as to arrive at objective options. Anger, pain, humiliation, fear, concern, and self-doubts are legitimate emotions when faced with difficult people which makes a sympathetic and objective ear of a friend essential and valuable. However, bear in mind that you must be ready to act or do something when given legitimate solutions because you are committing yourself to act unless such actions will only worsen the situation. To refuse to act when offered assistance or advice would make you a whiner and a complainer in the eyes of your co-worker or friend.

Talk to that person. Be open to the possibility that such difficult person may even be unaware of his or her negative impact in your life in the office. The only way to know for sure is to confront them. This stage will be tricky so you will need to be as pleasant and agreeable as possible. Give them the benefit of the doubt and presume that they may not be aware of the impact of their actions or words on you. They may even be learning about their impact on you for the very first time. Worst case scenario? It is possible that they know exactly what kind of effect they have on you and that their actions are deliberate and calculated. There are genuinely difficult people in the world and they believe that bullying others and throwing their weight around gives them power or some degree of advantage over others. Try to reach some sort of agreement regarding your relationship just the same. If an agreeable compromise has been reached, do a follow-up after the initial discussion if needed or if things have stayed the same. Be the peacemaker if you can.

If private talks did not work, confront the difficult person’s behavior publicly. But do it with style and sophistication: utilize gentle humor, sarcasm, or exaggerated gestures such as placing your hand over your heart to indicate a serious wounding. Employ positive confrontational tactics by using humor.

You may also utilize and rally other people who might have the same issues with the difficult people. But do this carefully and reasonably. Sometimes, a group approach might force the management to notice the issue and to act on the situation before things get out of hand.

If you have tried these steps and you see no change in sight, then do yourself a favor and try to ignore that person. Get on your daily tasks and civilly interact with the person only when needed. Your time is valuable, so unless there’s something important at stake, don’t waste it by trying to change a negative person. Keep a healthy distance.

The last resort, aside from quitting your job, is to escalate the situation formally to the Human Resources department or the people in authority. Management has authority to make changes and provide solutions above and beyond what is possible for employees, so reporting to management can help to definitively resolve issues with difficult people. This is your trump card so use this right wisely.


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