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Dealing with difficult people

“The assertive person stands up for her own rights and expresses her personal needs, values, concerns, and ideas in direct and appropriate ways.” Robert Bolton, consultant and author

Are we being kind by not confronting negative comments and derogatory remarks? It might be our Midwestern culture to be passive when confronted by such behavior, to not be assertive…but our lack of response is not civil.

Working toward a more civil workplace improves your wellness and that of your coworkers, enhances your personal professional skills and improves work productivity.

In the book “No More Blue Mondays” Robin Sheerer outlines four keys to finding fulfillment at work. They are
1. Reveal what’s true for you.
2. Reclaim your personal power.
3. Express your commitment.
4. Surround yourself with support.

Think about #2 in dealing with difficult people. Sheerer says own the problem by asking “If I were responsible for this situation, in what way would that be?”

The second step to reclaim your personal power is to take action. Thinking about problems and complaining does not resolve unacceptable behavior. Action gives you the power to move on. Action takes courage. Courage is the ability to manage fear or pain.

Here’s one problem and a method I’ve seen used effectively—
Problem: A person who is hostile, who unnecessarily criticizes (a put-down)
Solution: Disarm by repeating word for word what the person said. You might preface the repetition by saying, “I want to make sure I understood what you just said. I heard you say…………” OR “I want to make sure I didn’t misunderstand you.”

I saw this technique used in a group meeting where the offender commented in rather a low voice to those around her, “It won’t matter what we say because she’ll (the leader of the group) do what she wants anyway.” The leader immediately called the offender by name, and said, “I want to make sure I heard correctly what you just said. I heard you say ‘It won’t matter what we say because she’ll do what he wants anyway.’ Is that right?”

The offender denied the comment but the leader did a very effective job of communicating that incivility was not going to be tolerated.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to wait until after the group is gone to confront the offender. Sometimes it’s the situation that is difficult rather than the person.

Dealing with difficult people was a concern at the conference sessions I conducted. It’s on the Web. It’s in books.

Books I’ve not read but you can use to search for reviews as well as more books
Coping with Difficult People: The Proven-Effective Battle Plan That Has Helped Millions Deal with the Troublemakers in Their Lives at Home and at Work
1998, Bramson
Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work
2006, Crowley and Elster
Dealing with People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst
2002, Brinkman and Kirschner

Resources on the Web


this sounds vaguely familiar... great post and excellent reminder to all of us that tolerance is confused with acceptance.

Kindness and complicity - tough balancing act for most of us.