Working with Difficult People

Working with difficult people – what to do if you are in this situation:

By Trish Murphy

Working with difficult people is one of the certainties of life and it is well worth learning how to mind yourself in a situation such as this.  The effects can be very serious and many people end up leaving work and struggling with confidence for a long time after such an experience. Most people try to manage the situation by speaking calmly and reasonably and are shocked to find that this does not work.  They continue to try to communicate in this manner to little or no change and then resort to commenting about their difficult person to colleagues, friends and family.  Initially it is a relief to sound-off about the colleague but it changes nothing and helplessness and frustration settle in.  Often obsessive thinking about the difficult person takes over and it is hard to let go even when you are not at work.

It is worth having a look at the overall picture:  The facts are that a colleague or boss can be both eminent and respected but may be a poor manager and are probably completely unaware of the effects they having on you and on your ability to work well.  They may also think that threatening and belittling you will somehow get better results whereas in fact the very opposite is happening.  Your reaction to this person can be full of fear, resentment and intimidation.  Every time you try to deal with them you are communicating through your own negative emotions and the chances of them responding positively to this are almost negligible.  If they are not listening or are totally lacking in self-awareness, it is unlikely that anything you are saying is getting through.  Your frustration and dread rises and their inability to manage grows also – this is a very stuck situation

The reason most people do not take a disciplinary case against their bosses or colleague is that they fear a) that it will tarnish their own reputations and positions and b) there is a left over fear from school of being ‘the rat’.  However, if you try everything and are not succeeding it seems pointless to continue doing the same thing over and over again.    You need to have them listen to you and for that to happen you need to get their attention. Some people will not listen until they are challenged and though you may not want to be the one to do this, it is a fact nonetheless that this is what has to happen if the situation is to change.

It may be that they will only listen if there are a number of staff standing together in front of them; if they are faced with a disciplinary procedure or if their own boss or board challenge them.   There is no doubt that everyone would benefit from the challenge: they would be a better manager, the organisation would benefit from happier staff and you would benefit from having stood up for yourself and demanded that you be treated with respect.  The main cause of not taking such steps is fear.

Fear curtails our intelligence and makes us tense, withdrawn and negative.  If it becomes part of our everyday lives it can make us bitter and small minded.  No-one wants this.  What you need in this situation is courage and self-belief but it is important to tackle this in small stages as otherwise it might send you into panic.  Start by speaking clearly and strongly that you need the situation to change.  Follow up with an email to keep track and verify your position.  If there is no positive response, go to someone higher up and do not be afraid to use the organisation’s procedures.  Your boss or colleague is not now and never has been in charge of how you feel – only you have that privilege.