How to deal with difficult people — and not
by Cindy Locher, BCH
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” ~Dale Carnegie
Emma had finally landed her dream job almost a year ago. She loved the work and got along with almost everyone in her department.
Yet the last few weeks, Emma was beginning to hate to go to work each morning.
She had a coworker who was a ‘know it all’ and always insisted on his way of doing things. He refused to consider others’ opinions or ideas, claiming his answers and solutions as the only “correct” ones. He was loud and abrasive, constantly interrupting Emma and her fellow workers when they were speaking. When he was asked to please not interrupt or to give others a chance to speak, he acted surprised, defensive, and confused that there could be a problem with his behavior around his coworkers.
Emma and a few of her coworkers had met privately with their supervisor about this difficult person. While their supervisor listened and seemed sympathetic, he didn’t give any solutions to help them. Emma felt alone and unsupported. What could she do? Meetings and group team times were becoming a nightmare. She actually felt physically sick.
Do you have a coworker like Emma does who makes the workplace a misery? What can you do when someone is absolutely impossible to be around or to work with?
The simple steps in this article series may help save you much frustration and even perhaps your job.
1. Accept that You Can’t Change Another Person Directly.
I know, I know…you’ve heard that before, certainly.
And you may be wondering, “is there going to be anything new here?”
Did you know–anytime you think to yourself “I already know that,” you instantly shut down your neurology for learning?
OK, I’ll bet THAT bit of information was new (and useful!), so why not read on, with an open and curious attitude that there may be something in this article that will help you!
Humans as a whole don’t like to change, and certainly not for reasons outside of themselves. Lasting change is almost always driven from within.
Yet we often think we can change someone else.
Like many engaged and then married couples discover, no one can change another person directly without that person being motivated to change. In fact, if you try to go changing the behavior directly (pointing it out, having “talks,” etc.) you are likely to stir up defensiveness in the other person and they will become even more resistant to changing.
I often coach my clients about their circle of control, and their circle of influence, and the circle outside that-things you can’t control or influence and need to let go of.
You can influence the behavior of others but you can’t control that behavior.
There are some NLP techniques that will help you to interrupt the behavioral patterns of others, and by doing that repeatedly, you may train those patterns to reduce or even extinguish, at least within that environment. You can also anchor behaviors you want to see more of, and make some changes that way.
But what happens when it’s not just a particular behavior or two, but a person’s entire personality that is challenging?
Resist the temptation to try to change the difficult person directly. I understand that this is very hard to do, especially when you want to simply scream, “Shut up, you big mouth” at someone who talks all the time and never allows others to speak. It’s even harder to hold your tongue when that same person constantly interrupts. (In college, we used to go to the train tracks, wait for a passing train and then scream all our frustrations out. That might help you feel a bit better for awhile!)
You can’t change a person who doesn’t want to change. Nor can you change any person except yourself. Accepting that there are difficult people in the world and you just have to ‘accept and move on’ is a big step toward saving yourself a massive headache. Think of it not as ‘giving up’ or ‘giving in,’ but as a vital piece to your own well being. Think of yourself as the willow tree in the wind storm. Let the storm pass through and around you, while you maintain your ground. Plus, when you behave in an adult professional manner, you don’t earn the ‘difficult person’ title yourself.
Emma began to ‘tune out’ her coworker when she could. While she couldn’t change his behavior, she began to change her own. When he interrupted her, she let him finish his thought or sentence and then continued what she had been saying, even if it took longer. If he interrupted again, she simply stayed silent or walked away when she could. She became the willow. Realizing he was ‘who he was’ and wasn’t going to change helped Emma accept that some people in life just have to be walked away from and left alone. People in her department, including her boss, were impressed with her maturity and calm demeanor.
Interestingly, some people who are difficult like this are, on some level, expecting and even wanting the confrontation, nasty looks and push back from others. Remember, you have no idea how your co-worker got this way. It’s possible that, on a subconscious level, they are placing others in the role of a parent or other person from their past, and replaying those dynamics. They are consciously unaware that they are doing this. If you change your responses to their behaviors, that may eliminate the subconscious triggers that keep them in that behavioral loop, and their own behavior may change.
Check out Part 2: If you do this, you’re just making it worse for yourself.
Until next time!