Regardless of what you do for work, you will have to deal with difficult people.
Prior to starting my own business, I was employed by a large community hospital. Despite the corporate policies for conflict management and dispute resolution, the presence of administration, and being part of a team of so-called “professionals,” there were plenty of difficult people that came with the job.
In addition to following the 9 rules for conflict management, understanding how to strategically deal with difficult people at work puts you at an advantage.
When you find yourself feeling frustrated and confused about what to do, recognize that you are not a victim of the situation or that frustrating person. You are feeling a certain way about the other person and the situation. The situation or person is not making you feel anything.
If you put yourself in a victimized state by blaming someone else for how you feel, it becomes easy to become overwhelmed and confused about what to do. Ask yourself: why I am feeling this way? Is it a problem with me and how I feel, or is it a problem with the other person? Try to understand the role your reaction is playing in this situation.
Sharing the story of what happened with you and the other person may seem therapeutic, but at work, sharing can become more toxic than helpful. This is because the horizontal communication (communication between co-workers) that occurs within an organization can easily become a game of telephone that has gotten completely out of control.
Resist the urge to “set the story straight” before the other person does. If you are asked about the situation, be honest. Acknowledge that there is a conflict, but say that you are not comfortable discussing it at work.
Before you start seeking some sort of resolution for dealing with the difficult person, brainstorm possible solutions.
Consider what can be done to either mend the problem or develop a relationship with the other person that does not affect your performance, confidence, or productivity at work.
After you have introspected and brainstormed possible solutions, ask to speak with the difficult person privately, away from other co-workers. If you are concerned about the outcome or are simply uncomfortable being alone with the person, have a chaperon (e.g., a responsible co-worker, manager, or lead) accompany you throughout the conversation. They act as a mediator ensuring that the conversation remains constructive and can act as a record of what occurred.
Take responsibility for what you say, speaking in terms of “I” and not “you”. In fact, this use of language is one of the easiest changes you can make for more confidence.
Take notes and keep documentation of when you spoke with the difficult person, the date/time, and what action was taken. This helps ensure that your future recollection and discussion about the conversation is accurate and will help prevent further conflict.
Many organizations have systems and policies in place for resolving conflicts and how to deal with difficult people at work. In addition to documentation, these procedures often involve a superior or a risk management department that will help mediate between you and the difficult person.
Although it may seem like a hassle, remaining in alignment with these policies ensures that you are in integrity with your own values and that of your employer.
Regardless of the outcome, recognize that every experience you have contains a lesson. Be it simply growth in your resilience, noticing your ability to solve problems, or recognizing a flaw in your employers policies and procedures, you can benefit from the experience.
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