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Difficult People—How to Handle Them

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the ability to hide the bodies of the people that really tick me off!

Life is about making choices. You can choose the people you want to befriend. But sometimes, in a work situation, you may not be able to avoid people who make your stomach turn when you see them.

  1. The type of people you want as little to do with as possible are people who

    • enjoy your failures;

    • insist on telling you what to do without giving you an opportunity to make your own decisions;

    • interrupt at meetings;

    • show no respect for others or their opinions;

    • always discuss others in non-complimentary terms behind their backs;

    • try to take credit when they have made little or no contribution to a project;

    • find it hard to tell the truth;

    • compete when they should be collaborating.

  2. Here are some strategies for dealing with such people:

    • Learn to live with them. Despite all the bad faults some people may have, they're bound to have some good qualities. Find out what they are and focus on them.

    • Work around them. Go out of your way to avoid such people. Send them notes, faxes, or e-mails instead of phoning or getting into face-to-face conversations. This will work particularly well if the person in question will be around for only a short while.

    • Focus on the issues. Try not to criticize them, for to do so will only increase your frustration as their behaviour deteriorates.

    • If you can bear it no more, let the person know how he affects you. This can be very delicate, so do so with great caution. The principles of giving feedback (see Feedback: Giving) will help you do this in a way that will reduce rather than exacerbate the problem.

    • Do some self-examination. Become introspective. Ask yourself if you are perfect. The answer will surely be no. It could be that things you do annoy others. Work to improve yourself and change your behaviour. As you do, you will surely see an improvement in the behaviour of others.

    • Find some common ground with the person you don't like. This will help you build bridges and give you things to talk about. As you get to know the person better, you may find out things that will give you some insight into why she behaves as she does.

    • Treat difficult people with respect. You set the tone. You behave professionally. Doing so will, at a minimum, prevent your relationship from deteriorating. And at least you will have the satisfaction of doing what you expect of others.

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