These aren’t the only strategies for dealing with difficult people—at work or anywhere else, but they’re a start. Make sure to keep in mind that difficult people are still people, and show them as much compassion as you can—within reason, of course.
1. Respect and Validation
It’s what you would want, if the roles were reversed. No one is difficult on purpose. So give the pain-in-your-office the benefit of the doubt; you don’t need to agree with everything they say, but sometimes all a person needs is to be heard.
Walk a mile in their shoes. Just because they’re difficult doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a hand. If you can see the situation from their point of view, then maybe you can help steer them out of it. A little critical thinking, active listening, and a bit of compassion can go a long way.
3. Don’t Argue
An argument is easy, and almost always unproductive. Instead of anticipating what you’ll fire back with, try actually listening. Listening is easy and it will never escalate a situation out of your control.
3. Counter with Fact
Don’t be argumentative, but you can help a difficult person reframe their more extreme statements with a little dose of reality. Turn hatred into frustration, “always” into “occasionally,” and desperate situations into constructive possibilities for change.
4. Set a Timer
No matter how high your patience level, there are reasonable limits. Don’t let the difficult person hijack your entire day with their negativity. If you’ve tried all of the above and still can’t defuse the situation, it’s perfectly okay to set some boundaries. Say you have five minutes to chat, but then you both should really get back to work.
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