Is a Difficult Person Ruining Your Work Life?

Interpersonal and Communication Skills - © Samantha Biron

I still remember one of the first difficult people I had to deal with on the job – I was only 25 and it was my first “real” job. My manager had frequent mood swings that would sometimes develop into aggressive, controlling behavior where he would yell at staff and often lead them to tears. When he began to display this conduct with me, I simply wouldn’t accept it and tendered my resignation despite protests from the General Manager. I felt that my emotional well-being was more important than the job. Although I never regretted my decision to resign, I did however miss my job and wondered if there might have been a better way to have handled it. It turns out there was!

Here are 7 tips to help you cope with difficult behaviour or a difficult person in your workplace:

1. First, try to assess if you are dealing with a difficult person. Are you over-reacting? Is there an underlying reason or cause for the difficult behaviour – could it be transient or sporadic? Have they acted differently in similar interactions with other people?

2. Consider trying an open discussion to resolve the problem. Perhaps the person just wants to be listened to and understood.

3. Kindness can go a long way. Simple acts such as an impromptu offer of a cup of coffee or help on a project can sometimes lead to an improved relationship.

4. Dr. Robert M. Bramson, author of “Coping With Difficult People” suggests there are eight categories of truly difficult people – Hostile-Aggressives, Complainers, Clams, Super-Agreeables, Negativists, Know-It-Alls, Indecisive Stallers and Ramblers. Learn about the different difficult types of people that exist and how best to interact with each of them.

5. Blaming someone or resenting them will not make them change; you will only increase your stress level. You need to develop a plan for changing the normal pattern of interaction with the person.

6. Remember that you only have control over YOURSELF. Learn about yourself, your trigger buttons, how you tend to respond when threatened and how to control your own thoughts and emotions rather than let others control you.

7. There are different types of communication styles. Discover yours, and learn about the other types in order to better interact with different types of personalities and avoid conflict before it occurs.

As this is a skill and behaviour-based issue, I have found that the hands-on practice of techniques offered in a live workshop is much more retainable and practical than simply reading about them in a book. There are a number of helpful workshops offered by PMC on this topic. Look under the “Interpersonal and Communication Skills” category on this website.

Samantha Biron is a consultant and instructor with PMC.

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