AccessEAP blog

How to deal with difficult people in the workplace

Most of us would have come across a difficult person at some point in our lives and most likely it has happened in the workplace. These individuals may come across as aggressive, intimidating or controlling, which can lead to conflict and have a detrimental impact on the person on the receiving end. However, it’s important to develop strategies to successfully manage challenging workplace conflicts so we aren’t doomed to a high conflict and overstressed workplace.

Our data shows one of the top five leading issues in the workplace is conflict. Conflict is unhealthy and can affect people in different ways, but more specifically it can lead to having difficulty concentrating, feeling less productive, an increase in absenteeism and resignation.

We worry that disagreeing or standing up to a colleague might lead to being reported to a manager or seen as difficult, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t react when faced with a difficult situation. In fact, if you don’t, your career can suffer and you may fail to gain the respect and trust you want from others.

With this in mind, we should focus on ‘how’ we say what we need to say and find ways to deal with different personalities in the workplace.

Here, some key strategies to help manage workplace conflict and challenging communications:

  1. Understand the other person’s focus

    Is your colleague task driven or people oriented? Do they focus on goals and activities? Or do they place more emphasis on relationships and interactions? When you understand where a colleague’s focus lies, then you can find a way of communicating that best meets both of your needs.

  2. Understand the other person’s pacing

    Are they slow to react and have difficulty processing information? Or are they reactive and fast-paced? If you can determine how they process and react to communications, you can pace your own communications in the best way to be understood.

  3. Focus on the behaviour rather than the person.

    There are many theories that offer guidance as to how we can manage relationships at work, but one that stands out is the DISC model. It outlines that people tend to develop a self-concept based on one of four factors – dominance, inducement, steadiness, or compliance. From there we can try to establish where a person’s behavioural styles best fit. The four styles described by Guy Harris at discpersonalitytesting.com include:

    • People who have both outgoing and task-oriented traits often exhibit dominant and direct behaviours. They usually focus on results, problem-solving, and the bottom-line.
    • People who have both outgoing and people-oriented traits often exhibit inspiring and interactive behaviours. They usually focus on interacting with people, having fun, and/or creating excitement.
    • People who have both reserved and people-oriented traits often exhibit supportive and steady behaviours. They usually focus preserving relationships and on creating or maintaining peace and harmony.
    • People who have both reserved and task-oriented traits often exhibit cautious and careful behaviours. They usually focus on facts, rules, and correctness.
  4. Reflecting/paraphrasing

    In your own words show the other person you have heard their viewpoint. This demonstrates you have understood and gives the person a chance to explain further until they feel they have been totally heard. Remember, understanding does not mean agreeing.

  5. Avoid seeming judgemental

    In order to communicate effectively, you do need to set aside your judgement and withhold blame and criticism in order to fully understand the person. Where possible, build rapport and identify the other person’s perspective. Some of the most difficult communication scenarios, when successfully executed, can lead to the most profound connections with others.

The AccessEAP Manager Support Hotline is a confidential service managers can use to retain control and responsibility while getting professional advice. How to best deal with difficult people and a variety of other issues and challenges faced in today’s complex work environment can be covered in these sessions. Call the Manager Support Hotline on 1800 818 728.