Handling Difficult People is a challenging task in the workplace. It is easier said than done indeed! However, it is possible to handle them when you understand basic human psychology and endeavor to improve their behavior through soft skills.
Successfully managing difficult people is one of the most demanding tasks to carry out. When you have a duty that requires you to interact with people from time to time, you will realize how demanding it can be to accommodate people, differences, and excesses.
While you will have some people who are easy to relate with, there is the category of those who seem to have an issue with everything. I will refer to them as “difficult people” for the sake of this article.
The first problem you may encounter with difficult people occurs if you are unable to detect them early. When you are observant and well-informed about their character traits, you can take caution beforehand and get deliberate about the approach you will use in dealing with them.
Now let us learn about the 6 soft skills we should use to handle these difficult people:
5 soft skill to handle difficult people
1. Calm approach.
There are a few tactics you can try here, depending on what you think the root cause is:
Soft request – Apologize if you thought you may have been directive or bossy. Afterward, ask for help and ask them when they would be able to accomplish it. This will soften the person up and make them feel appreciated.
Direct communication – Start with something like, “I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot last time. I want to work together effectively to do XYZ. I would love to figure out how we can best work together to accomplish that.” Then ask questions about how they’d like to work together, their pet peeves, etc. This gives people the room to express what may have set them off last time. They will also appreciate the proactive approach and your intention to take them into account.
The benefit of the doubt – Focus on thinking well of others; assume that they have good reasons for how they are dealing with you; be appreciative and thankful.
Don’t expect anything – If you don’t expect anything from this person, then they won’t appear “difficult” to you. If you try again and still don’t get what you need, then think of alternative routes.
2. Advice Approach.
It’s very hard to look at things objectively when we are emotional, so find a mentor at work or outside of work you respect, and ask for constructive advice on what you can do. Remember, this is not the same as venting to your friends or gossiping to co-workers. Your only purpose is to get advice on how to resolve the situation.
Regardless of what advice you get, you have to make the final decision about how to proceed. Don’t just let someone else tell you what to do — stay accountable and stay in control.
3. Determining Long term goal approach.
Ask yourself what happens to you if this person continues to be “difficult,” and if this person were to stop being “difficult.” Determine how hard it would be to build a good relationship with this person, and weigh it against whether or not you can accomplish your goals through someone else. Sometimes, it’s not worth the effort to resolve a situation and easier to work around it. If this is the case, work around it. But if this person is someone you need to work closely with long term, then it’s important to resolve it and make sure you build a strong relationship with them.
4. Responsibility Acceptance Approach.
Nobody likes to hear this, but many times we are partially responsible for why we think a people is a difficult people. It’s important to realize that the label “difficult” is your perception of this person based on unmet expectations. This person may very well think the same of us, and others may not think this person is “difficult” at all.
The good news is once we realize that a difficult person is a perception, there is hope that change can occur. We cannot easily change others, but we can change our own actions, expectations, and perceptions to alleviate the situation.
5. Root Cause Approach.
Any time someone is “difficult person” in your perception, it’s because you had certain expectations about how they should have acted, and they didn’t act in that way. Start by examining what your expectations were regarding how this person should have acted and how they disappointed you. Also, realize that there are four potential root causes behind “difficult” behavior. You may find that it’s not personal at all.
Reaction to your tone, demeanor, or approach to them – If you went to someone and asked for something ASAP, you may have thought that it was a reasonable request. However, they may be swamped and didn’t appreciate your bossy tone, and therefore decided not to be helpful.
Your presence triggered this person’s insecurities based on their past experiences – You may have been perfectly considerate, but this person might have had some bad experiences with people in your type of role, and decided to be defensive by default.
It has nothing to do with you at all – This person is having personal issues or just a bad day, and you just caught them in the wrong mood or time.
Likes to be difficult – Some people get a kick out of irritating other people, mainly due to boredom or unhappiness with their own lives.
The good news is you can do something to change the situation.