How Do You Handle Difficult People?
Updated: Jul 9
I have always considered one of my key strengths to be my ability to bring people and teams of people together. To overcome challenges and barriers by taking the time to understand what the frustrations and pain points are of key stakeholders. Helping individuals to work better together by putting the right tools in place and having the right conversations. Building relationships built on respect, active listening and compromise. However, no matter how good I was at getting people to work better together - the one type of person I had no "tool in my box" for were people who I described as "not playing by the rules". I simply could not overcome challenging individuals who - from my perspective - were angry, sometimes bullies, aggressive and just damn right rude. And these people really affected me. They eroded my confidence, made me feel anxious and ultimately if I was being managed by them would result in me leaving. Who wants to work with arseholes? Life is too short! A few years ago when one particular line manager had seriously eroded my confidence, to the point where I wasn’t even being shortlisted for interviews - something I had never experienced before - I started to see a life coach. She would challenge me - "whose rules do they not play by?", and I would respond "societies", and she would challenge back "says who?". I really struggled with this. I was so fixed in how I thought people should behave, very black and white thinking. And I was blinded by my own emotional response to these situations. I would translate these behaviours as personal, really let it affect my energy, mindset and motivation. And I couldn't figure out how to tackle this. My life coach would try to get me to experiment by observing the "bad behaviours" and having empathy towards that person - "poor X to be so angry and uptight, they must have issues themselves". I tried. I tried again. And again. I just couldn't feel empathy for them. I didn't get it. Then I was hit by a personal crisis just as I started a new scary job in a new sector. My world was torn apart and I hit rock bottom emotionally. I had zero resilience. And my natural response was to protect myself from anything that had a negative impact on me. People, friends, work challenges etc. - if it was having a negative effect I shut it out, I went into flight mode. It was self-preservation and all I could do at the time, as I needed to focus all my energy on just being okay. On surviving my crisis. At the same time I encountered a Director who was a bully, and just had a problem with me. Because I did not have the resilience to even process this - for the first time ever I did not take it personally. I couldn't. I had no emotional or mental capacity to do so. So I simply observed it as an outsider, and could see how threatened this individual was, how insecure they were in their own world and how this clearly translated into panicked and irrational behaviours in the workplace. What a revelation! A huge life lesson. By not taking this negative energy into myself, not letting it impact me personally I was able to simply reflect and observe on their situation and what made them that way. I didn't find the tool to improve our working relationship in fact I left. But I did find the strength and skills within me to never be so directly affected by one person again. To genuinely be able to look at people and empathise with their world and their way of dealing with it. We are all different. We all have good day and bad day behaviours. Consider next time you find yourself in a similar situation - what is within your sphere of influence. How you feel about something and how you perceive someone's behaviours are within your control and power. You are already winning when other people no longer hold that power to impact your confidence, your energy and your happiness - no matter how they choose to behave.