Coping with Difficult People at Work

Five tips for handling problems

If you work long enough, you will be forced to deal with difficult people on some level. It may be a co-worker, a client, a vendor or supplier, or a boss. This can make you dread coming to work every day and affect productivity and performance.

Practical advice: Do not despair. There are steps you might be able to take concerning a person or people you cannot tolerate. It can benefit you and the company overall. Here are five ideas to consider:

1. Face down the office bully. A bully may intimidate you, insult you in front of others or otherwise make your life miserable. But you do not have to simply accept it. For instance:

  • Set limits on what you will tolerate. There is a line between normal workplace behavior and bullying that should not be crossed. If the bully does cross the line, be prepared to act in a reasonable manner.
  • Confront the bully. Point out the inappropriate behavior. Surprisingly, the bully may be unaware of the effect he or she is having.
  • Document incidents. Make sure you have proof of a bully’s actions in case either one of you is called on the carpet.
  • Follow the rules. It is likely that your human resources (HR) department has established procedures. Consult HR to determine how to best proceed.

2. Be a team player. In most cases, a successful business depends on cooperation among employees. Rather than working for just yourself, work with others, no matter how difficult they can be. Be aware of issues that deserve some leeway. Do not sink to the level of bullies or disruptive co-workers; rise above it.

3. Tackle annoying habits. Someone you work with, including an employee under your supervision, may exhibit annoying or unpleasant traits. It could be anything from offensive body odor or breath to constantly clicking pens or drumming desks in meetings. As with confronting bullies, initiating conversation about this requires courage. Be sensitive to the other person’s feelings, but do not beat around the bush. Honesty is usually the best policy.

4. Cut down the gossip. Unfortunately, gossip is rampant at many workplaces throughout the country. Far from being harmless, as many people assume, gossip can result in low morale and a toxic corporate culture. If you are a company manager or owner, you should not turn a blind eye to these goings-on. Address problems head-on, and institute policies that deter employees from engaging in gossip at work.

5. Defuse negative vibes. Is your company hounded by “negative Nellies” who never, or rarely, have anything good to say? Before you do anything, listen to their complaints. If the complaints are legitimate, consider making improvements. However, if they are not, do not allow the negativity to fester. It might require discipline, warnings and, in the worst-case scenario, a change in employment.

Do not simply ignore these problems and hope they will go away. They most likely will not and could get worse. Find the solutions that will work for you and your company.

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