Dealing With Difficult Coworkers

Code For Cash

We’ve all had that coworker, the curmudgeon. Nothing is ever right, it’s always terrible. They may work hard and get things done but their constant complaining means no one wants to work with them. A lot of times this is a symptom of a deeper problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the person. Sometimes that curmudgeon is you.

No matter the reasons for them being difficult, if you can effectively work with people who other refuse to even acknowledge then you will make an impression with the higher ups. You’ll find difficult people just about everywhere you work. Being able to effectively deal with people when they are being difficult will give you an advantage over those who get brought down by their negativity.

Dealing with difficult people can be, well difficult. Trust your own instincts in these situations. If you feel that a conversation is going down hill start to act like it is a confrontation and use these strategies. When you work with a difficult person or someone going through a difficult time you may want to help them. What you need to remember is to take care of yourself. Make sure that you find a healthy outlet for your own stress. After a difficult interaction you will benefit from some physical activity to get out the pent up anxiety or adrenaline. Also, give yourself props for effectively handling the situation. Even if you made mistakes you are working toward bettering yourself and you deserve to reward yourself.

Episode Breakdown

Stay calm in emotionally charged situations.

Don’t argue or try to convince the other person of anything. Now is not the time to prove a point or get the person to see your way of thinking. Even if you are right, in times of high emotions people tend to stick to what they think even if you have overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Try not to match their anger with your own anger. It’s like feeding the trolls on the internet, expressing anger only worsens the problem. Also, it can be very frustrating to be angry but the other person is calm and polite. This is especially difficult if you are somewhat of an empath as they tend to mimic the mood or emotions of those around them.

Use the S.T.O.P. method to reduce the likelihood of reacting instead of acting. Stop what you are doing. Take a moment or two to collect yourself. Observe how your body feels in the moment. Proceed with caution, kindness, and compassion.

Keep your guard up throughout the interaction.

Avoid getting dragged down with negativity. There will be people in your workplace who always complain. These people enjoy wallowing in their own negativity. If you don’t watch out they will bring you down too.

Don’t agree just to get someone to go away. Head nods and “yeahs” or “what’s there to do about it” may seem innocent but they add fuel to the person complaining. Silence can be interpreted as agreement both by the person complaining and those around.

If it must be done, set a time limit for venting. Sometimes in order to get work done you just need to let someone vent. There is a time and place for venting. Allow someone a few minutes to vent then get back to work.

No matter how they treat you, show respect.

Many times people just want to be acknowledged. No one enjoys being treated like they are incompetent. “I’m sorry” or “I’m going to try to fix this” can be enough to defuse an issue. If you offer to fix a situation make sure your actions follow your words.

Avoid making a judgement call until you know all the facts. You do not know all that a person is dealing with or going through when they are being difficult. Sometimes there may be a simple miscommunication causing an issue.

Telling people to “calm down” tends to have the opposite effect. It will irritate them and cause more difficult behavior. Deflate their irritability by asking them about what is making them upset.

Politely express your side or opinion to show where you are coming from. Letting people know your intention behind what you are doing helps them to understand the why so they are more willing to accept what it is you are doing that they otherwise disagreed with. This allows the other person the chance to empathize with your perspective. It also opens up a line of communication.

Understand the person’s intentions.

Rarely are people difficult for the sake of being difficult. There is usually an underlying reason for their behavior. Identify what triggers them to be difficult.

Actually listen to what they are saying. It’s easy to tune people out, especially when they are griping about the same thing for the hundredth time. Like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, they tend to get louder or more forceful if they think no one is paying attention to them. Use active listening skills to not only hear what they are saying but to acknowledge them.

Be on the look out for their hidden need. This is the thing that they are really trying to gain or avoid by being difficult. It may not be obvious, nor directly related to the target of their complaining.

Avoid saying, “I understand”. This usually just makes things worse. Try something like, “Tell me more so I can understand better.”

Seek help from your coworkers or others around the situation.

Find someone nearby or that the other person trusts. Sometimes deescalating a situation is just a matter of getting the right person to help you out. If it’s a situation where you can’t help, then you are actively doing something by finding someone who can.

Get perspective from those not in the situation. Being caught up in a situation sometimes you aren’t able to view it objectively. Seek advice from those outside of the situation, especially trusted colleagues.

After the interaction, debrief with a trusted coworker. Talk the situation over with someone after it has happened. This can help you to get a better view of you own behavior and the things that triggered you. Avoid doing this with management, unless you know they will keep if “off the record”.

Escalate to higher ups if necessary. This is a last resort when you can’t resolve an issue with a coworker. Sometimes, though, the only way to get a change is from the top down. However, if you do this too often it makes you look bad.

Keep an eye out for body language in you interactions.

Avoid acting defensively or even giving the impression that you are on the defense. This is difficult as we tend to give off signs of displeasure without even trying. Understand that you are going to want to defend yourself, and that’s Ok. How you present yourself to the other person can influence the way they interact with you.

Look for defensive body language in the other person. Watch them while they are talking and look for signs of defensiveness. They may get more aggressive on topics where they are least sure. Use this information to help you determine where the real issue lies.

As counterintuitive as is sounds, don’t smile. A lot of times smiling looks like you are mocking the person’s dilemma. In the same light, humor is likely to back fire on you. Instead of lightening the mood it may cause even more friction.

Remain flexible in your interactions.

Remember that one response doesn’t fit all situations. While you can apply the same concepts to different situations what works in one may not work in another. This is true even if it’s the same person in both situations.

Build rapport with coworkers before there are issues. This means joining the team for lunch a few times a week. Or if you are more remote then talking with colleagues before or after business calls. You want to build these connections up so that when conflict does happen you see each other as people, not some email recipient.

Put your emphasis on what can be done or acted upon. People who feel powerless in a situation tend to whine and complain. Don’t focus on what has already happened or things that you can’t change. Go into interactions with a solutions mindset.

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” ~ Obi-Wan Kenobi

Focus on the facts not extremes or emotions. Avoid using terms like “never” or “always”. Restate extremes in factual statements that still acknowledge the person’s emotional state.

Protect yourself in stressful situations by setting boundaries.

You have the right to say, “Please do not talk to me that way.” Confrontations can get emotionally charged and sometimes involve yelling and swearing. It is completely acceptable to tell someone they are being rude or disrespectful. You can do this and still be respectful yourself. It may be that the person doesn’t realize they are being rude because of their communication style.

Emphasize space and keep physical distance between you and the other person. Many empathic people, especially here in the Southern USA, will want to reach out and touch someone who is emotional. Unfortunately, this is more likely than not to be misinterpreted. They may think you agree with them or that you are being inappropriate.

Sometimes you just have to walk away from a situation. If you feel yourself being dragged down and losing the ability to remain objective then step away from the situation. This may be your best defense early on when you are becoming more self aware and are learning to be objective. When you step away you can even tell the other person that you need to think about it or want to do more research on the topic to better understand what they are saying. This will also allow emotions to cool on both parts.

Don’t take it personally

It likely has nothing to do with you. Though it may feel like they are directly attacking you. Keep in mind that their issue is about them and they are seeing the world through their own filters. Avoid giving the other person power over you by taking what they are doing or saying personally.

Don’t let yourself fall into reactivity and defensiveness. You want to act on what is said or done, not react to it. One is well thought out and planned whereas the other is quick and rash. This is difficult because our instinct is to react when someone attacks us.

Practice actively being defenseless. This doesn’t mean that you are passive or easily stepped on. You still maintain your opinion and perspective. It is the choice to not be an adversary to the other person’s negativity. The idea here is to set aside your ego so that you don’t argue with the other person. By allowing them to get it all out without resistance their defensiveness will be deflated and they may even rubber duck the issues they are upset about.

Book Club

The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding

Joe Kutner

Chapter 9 is called Thinking Outside the Cube. It starts off talking about Finland and how they have times of the year with little to no sunlight. Kutner then goes into talking about Vitamin D and how we get it from exposure to the sun. Lighter skinned individuals get more from less exposure. In the second section he talks about the benefits of Vitamin D. These include improved immune functions, elevated mood, lower blood pressure, and decreased risk of many diseases. He also points out that you should learn about your family medical history. Next he discusses boosting your immune system. He details several steps that most of us aren’t doing including getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, probiotics or good bacteria, and getting Vitamin D. In the next section he discusses the common cold, specifically how cleanliness helps to prevent it. In the final section he talks about spending time in nature and suggests taking an outdoor vacation. Action steps from this chapter include getting outside for ten minutes a day and going for walk in the woods.

Tricks of the Trade

It’s all your fault (not really).

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