20 Ways to Deal with Difficult People

by Nancy Evans
Would it surprise you that the Dealing with Difficult People message board is one of the most popular on iVillage’s Work channel? Probably not. Women tend to like the shortest
straight line to getting something done. And when weird behavior gets in their way, they want it straightened out. So, here are 20 solutions to deal with whiners, screamers and other
workplace miscreants.
1. Remove the blame factor
“Oftentimes, indirect language works because it focuses on the project rather than the person. Instead of saying, ‘You need to get it to me,’ you can say, ‘Reports must be turned in
by …’ or, ‘Payroll must be completed by …’ That way, people are less likely to feel accused or hounded.”
2. Let people know the result of their actions
“When colleagues miss deadlines, I let them know the impact: ‘If you don’t get it to me until tomorrow, that means we won’t have time to check it before shipping to your client,’ or
whatever. And make sure the impact is in relation to them, not you.”
3. Talk in person or by phone
“It’s notoriously easy to hit the wrong tone and come off sharp, imperious or brusque in email when you don’t intend to. Use the phone or drop by their desk when addressing sensitive
4. Be brief
“When discussing problems, keep it short and direct. It minimizes a stressful situation for both of you.”
5. Handle a whiner with tact
“You aren’t going to cure a whiner, but you might be able to cure her of talking to you. Don’t ask open-ended questions, not even ‘How are you?’ Limit your greetings to ‘good morning’
and ‘good evening.’ And be busy — all the time. The words ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have time to chat right now’ are your friends. Know them, love them, use them.”
6. Do your homework
“When you go to your boss with an issue or problem, make a list of the specifics you want to address, research the issue and get your facts right. When you have everything ready, schedule
a meeting, and be cool and professional.”
7. Don’t complain
“Watch what you say to anyone at work. The only reason to bring up negative issues is to create a plan for correcting them. Complaining for the sake of complaining can alienate colleagues
and create a bad environment. Better to save it for message boards.”
8. Let go of your anger
“Sometimes it’s hard to get past your own feelings of anger or hurt and your need to get them out. Write how you feel in a letter and mail it to yourself, or keep it at home. Then
resolve to put your anger aside. If you’re curious in a couple of months, read the letter. You may be surprised at how those feelings have changed.”
9. Don’t take it personally
“Recognize that a criticism of your work is not a criticism of you, and don’t let it damage your self-esteem.”
10. Stick to the points
“Whenever you have to discuss something with a difficult coworker, write down three to five main points, and stick to them. Even if they get off the subject and start saying nasty
things, always come back to your main points. That way, you avoid getting embroiled in an argument.”
11. Keep people in the loop
“Don’t spring any surprises on your boss or coworkers – like a new deadline or a developing problem. People don’t like that, and they can react defensively.”
12. Deal with a screamer
“Tell the screamer that the way she is speaking to you is making it difficult for you to understand what she wants and how to do your job professionally. Then you can say, ‘I know
the two of us want to be professional at all times.'”
13. Watch your language
“Don’t make an explosive situation worse by describing someone’s behavior to them with value-charged words like ‘rude,’ ‘uncaring’ and ‘yelling.’ Instead use more neutral descriptive
words like ‘loud’ or ‘abrupt.’ You can say she seems impatient or rushed. And you can sympathize by saying, ‘It looks like you have a lot on your mind.'”
14. Create measurable goals for difficult employees
“Create a set of expectations for their behavior over a predetermined period. These goals should be measurable and specific, rather than vague. For example, instead of saying, ‘I expect
you to improve your attitude,’ say, ‘There will be no more incidents of raising your voice to another employee.'”
15. Stop gossip
“Generally, I respond to all gossip and other such subjects with ‘Oh, really?’ and then change the subject or get back to work. Gossipers and rumormongers just want to stir up trouble
and they need attention and fuel to keep the conversation going. If you don’t respond, they move on.”
16. Be friendly without getting too close
“You don’t have to be bosom buddies with everyone at work. It is important to have a friendly relationship with your coworkers, but look for emotional fulfillment in your ‘real’ life,
away from work.”
17. Cultivate small talk
“Ask people about the things they like — music, movies and pastimes — to disarm them, get them talking and make them feel comfortable with you. Then you can bring in magazine clippings
or start conversations that create goodwill: ‘John, I saw this article about that band you like’; ‘Hey, Mary, I found this great Italian restaurant, and I know how you love lasagna!'”
18. Keep your temper
“Here’s one trick — don’t raise your voice. As a matter of fact, when you get into a tough spot, keep your voice at a normal volume and pitch it slightly lower than usual. Not only
does it keep the emotional level even, it also actually forces the person to listen to you.”
19. Dish out compliments
“Too often, we focus on what people are doing wrong. Try to catch them doing something right and comment on it. It makes people feel less under attack.”
20. Stay open-minded
“When someone criticizes you — regardless of how you feel about them — take the opportunity to be responsive and consider how you could improve. It’s actually an opportunity for


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