How do I deal with difficult people by Matthew Coppola


It doesn’t matter where you work they exist, people who are difficult to work with. This chapter has been written to be applicable to most situations at work when you are faced with difficult people. It may be people who are arrogant towards you, don’t listen to you because you are younger or hold a higher position, lazy workers and those who you find are always attacking you in a non-confrontational manner, either verbally with connotations or behind your back.

We call this office politics and it won’t go away. We all need to know how to deal with it.

We will now look at a number of suggestions you can use to deal with difficult people and difficult situations. These are:

  1. Be smart about your choice of words
  2. Show patience
  3. Keep an eye on your body language
  4. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself

 Be smart about your choice of words

Being smart about your choice of words involves using words that show respect, are commonly understood and evoke feeling. They also need to be grammatically correct. This will show respect for what you are trying to say and demonstrate that you have a positive attitude towards the person you are talking to. Your colleagues will then respond in the same manner, but this may take a while to happen.

Examples of words which are positive and up-building include:

–         Happy to speak with you

–         Nice work

–         Thank you John

–         Good morning/afternoon/night Leanne

–         Isn’t it a beautiful day today?

–         I was fascinated by the way you solved the problem

–         What an ingenious idea!

–         Now that’s original!

–         Could you please help me?

–         Ok wonderful, when do you start?

–         I love Friday!

–         Hello Mike

–         That’s fantastic

–         I’m so glad you’re here today!

–         Now that is impressive

Words are a powerful means of communicating to colleagues and must be used wisely. The saying ‘think before you speak’ says it all. The words you use in your conversations must be used in the right context with the right tonality, otherwise your message may be understood incorrectly and have the wrong effect then that intended.

It can be difficult to make the effort to use appropriate words, as some words can have two meanings if used in the wrong context. For example you might say “did you do the secretary?” referring to organising training for the company’s staff, but it can also have a double meaning with sexual connotations.

Using “I” or “my” too much in your conversation can cause co-workers to think that you always talk about yourself. Unless it permits, try and use “you” “us” more. Try and avoid talking about yourself unless they ask a question that permits you to do so. Also when starting a conversation with someone, always begin it by asking about them before you talk about yourself.

In the Australian workplace, it is respectful to use different expressions when you address others in higher positions such as a manager or supervisor. Of course everybody is different, and some people in higher positions may prefer to be spoken in a more relaxed manner, however the rule is to speak in an honourable and respectful manner to every employee in any position in the workplace.

Show patience

When confronted with a difficult co-worker, have you ever asked yourself “how many times should I have to forgive this person? Over ten times?” Sure, forgiving someone ten times may seem ridiculous, but what if you were that person being forgiven, wouldn’t you want to be forgiven more than ten times? Of course you would! So the same principle applies to putting up with the difficulties from a co-worker. It takes patience and endurance on your part.

Keep an eye on your body language

Body language is the non-verbal messages that we put across through our physical positioning and movements and accounts for 55% of total communication. There is positive and negative body language. Negative body language can show that we are not interested in speaking to someone. This includes crossed arms, body pointed away from someone while they are talking to you, and continually looking away while someone is talking to you. You need to make sure that your body language is correct and shows that you are interested in talking to a colleague and what they have to say.

Showing positive body language includes having your body pointed to the other person or mirroring their body language is a great way to establish rapport. So if your colleague is leaning against a table, imitate their body language by leaning up against the table too. Also maintain eye contact with the person you are talking to, and show that you are listening to them by nodding and looking at both their eyes and lips.

Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself

You could use a number of suggestions from this chapter in dealing with a difficult colleague, but sometimes you just need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think if you were them, how would you like to be treated? For example, let’s say you were jealous of another work colleague because they were better looking and drew more attention. Would you want them to acknowledge your attractiveness and include you when getting attention from co-workers? Of course you would. Doing so would make you feel better about yourself and have no need to be jealous.

But you might step back from this, and think “why should I have to go out of my way to make someone like me if they are the one who is being difficult to me?” Well you have just answered your question already. You should try and make amends with someone purely for the fact that they don’t like you. If you don’t and have a proud attitude, you’re going to go to work every day and have to put up with someone giving you a hard time. Sometimes you just need to be the stronger person.

Author: Matthew Coppola - Career Coach, Employment Specialist and Professional CV Writer

Holding a graduate degree in Commerce, majoring in Economics at Curtin University, as well as a post graduate certificate in Career Education and Development at RMIT University, Matthew brings with him many years of experience working in the fields of business development, marketing, soft-skills training and employment services industry. He has gained significant exposure in working with employers in sourcing staff as well as assisting jobseekers in promoting and marketing themselves to employers and securing sustainable employment outcomes. He is currently working in Disability Employment Services where he assists clients with mental health disabilities in finding and keeping satisfying and gainful employment and helping them overcome and work around barriers to employment. He has helped many job seekers secure employment by training and coaching them in the art of being interviewed and giving the interviewer a positive and lasting impression. He knows how to sell and market a job seeker to an employer and he imparts this knowledge to his clients in helping them sell and market themselves in an interview. Matthew regularly writes new articles on a variety of employment related topics and posts these to his personal website blog matthewcoppola.com

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