The stress of dealing with difficult people at work can certainly take its toll and come out in different ways – health problems, reduced morale, dreading to go to work, to name a few.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways to be less affected by the challenging behaviour of others.

Here are five ways you can do so.

  1. Don’t take it personally: This sounds easier said than done. But people who are less affected tend to explain the difficult behaviour of others as being due more to external factors rather than reading it as a personal attack. Resilient individuals tend to think the ‘difficult’ person is under a lot of stress at work or perhaps going through personal problems.

    When we explain difficult behaviour with colleagues as due to the situation or external factors, it becomes far easier to take it less personally. If you know that your manager is going through a marriage breakdown or suffering health problems, for example, you will find it easier to not interpret their behaviour as a personal attack.

  2. Assume good intentions: So often, we assume the worst – that someone is deliberately being disrespectful, undermining our position, or resisting change. Yes, sometimes this is the case. But my experience is that, on the great majority of occasions people have good intentions and we are misreading their behaviour.

    I remember one occasion when I felt that one of my staff was bossing me around, telling me how to do my job. When I spoke with someone who knew us both, they suggested this person was simply trying to get the job done. This was certainly a far more accurate and helpful way of seeing things, helping me to feel much better about working with this person.

  3. Cut them some slack: It is not written down anywhere that everyone should treat us respectfully 100% of the time. Although that would be nice, we are all human, we all tread on each other’s toes at times, and we are all allowed to have a bad day, though when it comes to having a bad year, that is harder to tolerate. Our ability to show compassion, to empathise, to see the situation from their perspective, is one of the key factors that help us to moderate our own behaviour.

    What would the other person be saying? How would they be seeing things? Would they be saying that you are contributing in some way? If you can acknowledge your own contribution, even if this is only 10%, it becomes easier to view the other person with more compassion.

  4. Decide to get over it: Some people have a wonderful ability to simply decide to get over upsets and focus their attention elsewhere. This is a wonderful strength. Others of us need to find a balance between venting how we are feeling with our support people, but also doing and thinking things over time which help us to let go of unwanted emotions. Remember, it is not time that heals. It is what we do and think over time that helps us to get over upsets.

    Certainly, assuming good intentions or viewing the other person with compassion will help. As will reminding yourself that you want to let go of those feelings and focusing your attention elsewhere. Ultimately, if we hold onto hurt, this only continues our suffering.You do not necessarily need to forget or excuse someone’s behaviour, but you do need to find a way of moving forward if you are going to do your part in having an easier relationship in the future.

  5. Take action: Resilient individuals know there is a time to cut someone some slack, but there is also a time for action. Such actions might include returning meanness with kindness, perhaps asking if they are OK.  Or speaking up, letting them know what you would prefer in the future. Even very difficult people have times when they are less difficult, so you may be able to use these times to reinforce the behaviours you would like to see more of.

    Of course, there is no guarantee if you are kind to these people or let them know what you need, that they will respond positively. We have to be realistic. Difficult behaviours at work are not always resolved with a single step or conversation. Sometimes further actions are needed. The only guarantee is that no change by either of you guarantees more of the same.

Review the list above and ask yourself, which do you need to practise more?

You might also like to read

Building Resilience at Work
Workplace Bullying: Effective Actions from Employers
Countering Workplace Gossip