There’s a reason “Works well with others” or “Team player” are things you’ll commonly see on resumes. No one is expecting you to like everyone you work with, but part of being a professional at a job is being able to WORK with anyone you’re asked to.
And sometimes, you’re going to be asked to deal with difficult people you just don’t jive with. Maybe their work style doesn’t really match up with yours, you have different opinions or values, or they just aren’t your cup of tea. Heck, you might not even be the only person who feels that way.
But flexibility, adaptability, and understanding are a huge part of collaborating, no matter if it’s your career or your personal life.
Does that mean you should never talk to higher ups about problems you might be having with coworkers? No, not necessarily. But before you get someone else involved, try to reframe your thinking. Here are some ideas on how to deal with difficult people!
Radical Acceptance is more than just a cool ska band name. It’s a distress tolerance skill that’s defined as the ability to accept situations that are outside of your control. It’s observing what is going on around you and deciding to stop fighting against the things that you can’t control.
It’s not passivity, it’s not giving up. It’s not asking you to ignore dangerous or discriminatory behavior or turning a blind eye to something really harmful.
It’s asking you to observe that this person in the cubicle next to you drives you absolutely nuts based on things that neither of you can change. Instead of stewing in that anger, instead of ruminating on the terrible time you’re having dealing with this difficult person, just accept it and keep moving forward.
Trust me, this is easier said than done.
Start building muscle with this skill beginning in your off-hours. Try your best to not spend any time at home thinking about this person or what they did today or what they might do tomorrow. The second you get in your car, leave them at the office. Don’t let this person spend any more time inside your brain than they need.
Whenever someone would cut me off in traffic, my mom would always say “You don’t know what’s going on with them. They might be rushing to a hospital.”
Dealing with difficult people can be a lot like that.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m not saying that you should let a coworker get away with having a bad attitude or bad behavior just because things might be difficult for them. There are no circumstances where someone is justified in being a jerk.
You never know. This person at work might see the tolerance for them and be thankful for the grace. If not, you’ll be getting your work done with as little drama as possible.
Unless this person can read minds, it’s very unlikely that they know everything about you. And the truth is, you probably know only a very small portion of the things that make up that person you work with.
You never know what’s going on in their life, do your best to not take things personally.
Sometimes when you’re spending all your energy dealing, difficult people can take more energy by breaking your boundaries. If you feel like just quietly accepting the situation isn’t working for you, try to set some boundaries with your coworker. This can be as simple as dividing work evenly, or you can ask to sit down and talk about your differences. Don’t let yourself get caught doing extra work because you don’t want this person to dislike you or you’re trying to win favors. Boundaries can be set not just with others, but with yourself!
Just because you’re expected to be professional doesn’t mean your feelings are invalid. Don’t bury them down until you snap or until you’re feeling miserable at work every day. Talk to someone outside of work, journal about it, go to a rage room, or scream into a pillow. Feel those feelings because that’s the only way to work towards building that bridge.
Be aware of yourself and your needs. If you feel that you can’t make a connection with this person because they are hostile, discriminatory, or otherwise making you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, talk to someone. If you feel like you’ve tried and tried to be productive with this person and it’s just no use, it’s time to talk to someone.
This is not an easy sea to navigate. There are dozens of different types of people in your workplace that you’re expected to work alongside and you’re going to butt heads with some of them. For more tips on how to handle a difficult coworker, check out Seven Strategies to Effectively Dealing with Difficult People at Work from the experts at ASAP.
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