This is one of the toughest questions and problems we go through in our everyday lives. And that is how to work with difficult people? This person most often exists in our workplace and also in the family. Although the title of this article suggests learning how to work with difficult people in the workplace, it also covers managing difficult people at home.
Why are people difficult to work with?
There is no answer to this. For example, my father has always had a bad temper. I have no idea why and there are no reasons for it. He has 8 other siblings and not all of them share his uncontrolled short temper explosions. We may go to counselors and try to learn the reasons behind the why and may never come up with the answers. It is okay not to have an answer to why someone behaves in a difficult way.
In another workplace I was working, there were a few coworkers spreading falsehoods about my department and they got their entire department rooting for their cause. This resulted in their lack of cooperation and even public sabotaging of their coworkers on the company’s social media. Makes no sense right? I had thought our purpose is to work towards the company’s goals and not to bring these petty arguments to public platforms.
From these experiences, I understood the meaningless hunt to know why people do irrational things. To them, I could be the one who is difficult to work with as well. My father could also find me a pain in the neck for whatever reasons.
1. Listening with attention
Most of us listen with a distracted mind. We do not fully listen to everything shared by the other person. It is even worst when we have to listen to someone we already brand to be unreasonable and incompetent. When the other person is not heard, s/he knows.
Therefore, the first thing we can do to manage our lives working with difficult people is to listen to them deeply. Listening means we do not make judgments but to hear the content of their speech objectively. I have experienced not being listened to by supervisors and have also made the effort to listen to tough clients. In these experiences, I found listening to others really helped with my rapport with the clients.
2. Do not judge
It is really difficult not to judge another person especially if this person has caused a lot of difficulties in your life. This person could be rude as well. But when we can let go of our judgement of a person, each time we communicate with them is a reset. We do not carry the burden of our judgement or of our past communications and this can actually improve the current situation.
Not judging means not expecting a specific result in your communication or work process with this person as well.
3. Have no expectations of difficult people
This may be the simplest and yet most difficult to do. Our expectations are what hurt us the most. When we have no expectations, we don’t hurt ourselves. Most of our hurt comes from our expectations. I used to have many expectations of the work I had and also of how certain people should be. These expectations came because I thought my good behaviour would be rewarded with civil communication. However, it isn’t true. That’s because to these people, what I deem good behaviour may not be good behaviour to them. Dropping expectations is like releasing burdens from one’s heart.
4. See their point of view
All of us have our egos. This produces the viewpoint that we are right and we are rational people and others are not. However, even the most difficult people at work, may not see that they are irrational or rude. What’s the reason? The reason is, most of us want to be loved and to be liked. Very rarely, does anyone want to be disliked. Even rarer are those who look within themselves and are honest with their dislikable traits.
It is unnecessary for us to bring ourselves to like difficult people. Difficult people also want the same things as us. They want to be happy, safe, and to be liked. If we can see this in others, it means we are able to reflect deeper than they are able to. This puts us in a position to be responsible – just like an adult who makes a good example for a recalcitrant child. We do not expect a defiant child to change overnight. S/he may never change. But at least, a seed is planted in their minds that certain qualities of a person usually attract more friends and concern from others.
5. Avoid criticising difficult people
Do you enjoy being told you are wrong? Some people accept it more easily than others. But most of us jump to our defenses and assert our point of view when we are accused of being wrong. No one likes to be criticized. Criticizing another is a sure way not to get cooperation from others.
I used to have a difficult client and also have quite an ego myself. It was difficult for me to admit I could be wrong. From my point of view, the mistake is not on our part but due to the client’s nitpicking habits. But this was not something I could say to the client. Moreover, it could be my own judgment, even if other coworkers who had worked with this client agree with me.
I decided to be humble and admit certain faults. This was not to curry favors with the client. Rather, it was my recognition that the client had a different point of view. Humility is really not an easy practice. Especially when it comes to unreasonable people.
But when I thought about the happiness I could gain, when they get off my back, it was all worth the effort. Humility became easier when I understood that everyone thinks they are right. I realize I can never be 100% right because all of our perceptions are like pieces of puzzles that fit into a bigger universal picture we cannot see.
Mindfulness helps us to contemplate
When we become aware of the present moment, we can start to contemplate. Being present, we have no judgments or expectations. Judgments and expectations are all past thoughts we decided to attach to. If we can let go of attaching to these thoughts, we feel a lot freer.
It helps us see each moment as something fresh and new. Whether this moment is with people we like or dislike, we are approaching them with a fresh mind – a mind without burdens.