As a contractor/consultant in the corporate world, I was often employed for only a few months at time; therefore, I went in and out of different work situations quite frequently. To me, the frequent change, while sometimes stressful, was also exciting. On a practical level, I was faced with learning how to adjust quickly to new situations and personalities. Invariably, I was faced with certain personality types that re-surfaced often in the form of:
1. the threatened, jealous co-worker (who was worried I might take his/her position); or
2. the rumor-mongering, negative administrative assistant; or
3. the micro-managing, petty- tyrant supervisor (who was also worried I might take his/her position). Sometimes, the supervisor would appear in the form of the critical, controlling parent-supervisor who often took credit for my work while at the same time expecting me to suck up insufferably.
I had to learn how to deal with difficult people on a revolving, but constant, basis. While my experience took place in the employment setting, my advice can work for difficult people everywhere: the overly-involved, critical parent/in-law; the hostile, loud neighbor; the negative friend in a group of friends, the obnoxious soccer parent; the self-serving parishioner; the rude restaurant customer; etc….
Here is how I have learned to effectively deal with difficult people:
1. Do not take their words or actions personally. If the person is negative or jealous or petty and wants to lash out to hurt you through their words or actions, that is a reflection on them, not on you. You may want to read the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, as it gives greater guidance in how to not take things personally.
Another way to say this is: don’t take on their stuff! Misery may love company, but you don’t have to be their company and engage in their game. This is a difficult and challenging principle to master. But once you have really mastered not taking things personally, your life will be markedly more positive and harmonious.
2. Be patient and cautious before taking any action. Patience is the key. Prior to either confronting the difficult person or addressing the issue: wait. It is in the time spent waiting that you will find the best course of action, the best words, etc…. Never take action out of immediate anger or impulse or as a reaction.
3. Pick your battles carefully. Every grievance may not be rife for a complaint. Sometimes, you need to wait to pick the best time to address an issue; sometimes, you will need to let things go altogether.
I can think of one time I was new to a work unit. In the first week, one of the other attorneys took credit for a very influential case I had found doing research; of course, I had made the mistake of sharing this information with this other attorney. However, this attorney had been in the work unit for over a year; I was new. I couldn’t address what had happened as I wanted the money and the reference, and I did not want to appear as a complainer. I did not choose to fight this battle; eventually, the pilfering co-worker was exposed by another colleague.
4. Confide in a person you trust; preferably a person that does not have anything to do with the difficult person in question. Confiding in someone close to you about your concerns will help you feel better and also help put things in perspective.
However, it can be dangerous, and sometimes lethal, to confide in someone who knows both parties. For example, it is not advised to confide in a co-worker about your issues with a supervisor or to confide in your sister-in-law about your mother-in-law. It is better to confide in someone you trust who has nothing to do with the issues involved. Further, if you confide in a neutral, uninvolved third party, they will be more objective and be able to give better counsel to you, for they do not have to feel as if they are being placed in the middle.
5. When you feel the need to confront an issue or a person, do so in a detached manner. Be as detached from your emotions as possible. That is why I have advised not to confront when you are emotionally upset or angry. Also, be detached from the outcome.
Sometimes, it will be necessary to stand up for yourself. I can think of several times in an employment setting where I needed to assert myself, as I was in danger of being misrepresented or misunderstood. I waited for the right moment with the knowledge that my input may not even make one bit of difference to the person.
I understood that I could not change the difficult person; I also understood that I may not even be able to change the situation, but that my input was necessary, nonetheless.
6. Assess the situation and ask yourself: What can I live with? For example, you have a neighbor who plays his music so loudly you can hear it throughout your home. Calling the police does not even inhibit his behavior. Do you need to move? Or, you have a petty-tyrant, micro-managing boss. No matter how you try to get along with this boss, the fact remains that you dread going into work. Do you quit your job? Do you ask for a transfer?
It is not always the best strategy to leave a situation when things become heated or someone appears to be difficult. I suggest a very simple solution in evaluating whether or not you should stay around the difficult person: make a list of pros and cons. Assess objectively what you can or need to live with for the moment. Make a plan for how to safely and effectively deal with the situation. Run this plan past someone you trust. Contemplate carefully before taking action.
7. Finally, ask yourself what your role is in the situation. Even if your role is as minute as being an observer, you have still learned something. One thing that I learned from my varied work situations was to become a better interviewer upfront. Dealing with a myriad of difficult people taught me how to ask the right questions before I agreed to sign onto any work situation. I also learned not to confide in people immediately, to carefully document my work and above all, to not take other people’s issues personally.
Without a doubt, there will be difficult people who appear upon your path. It is your choice how you wish to deal with them. Hopefully, I have provided a guide to help you make choices that work for you.
Brenda is a professional tarot reader and life coach with 10+ years experience. She has coached literally hundreds of clients regarding not only their relationship issues, but also issues regarding career, finances and family. You can call her directly on her site at www.intuitivereadings.org.