According to a survey of more than 1,100 workers, roughly 80 percent of employees will experience moderate to severe stress as a result of working with a difficult coworker, boss, or subordinate. Psychologists Alan A. Cavaiola, Ph.D., and Neil J. Lavender, Ph.D., conducted the survey and discuss its implications in their book, Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job.
We’ve all been there—sometimes things are complicated and it takes a team to figure out how to fix a problem, and sometimes things are easy in that it’s clear who is causing problems for the team. We all have that one person who makes things incredibly complicated when the situation doesn’t warrant it. (If you’re lucky, it’s just the one person.)
At home, it’s easier to deal with difficult people. You can choose who you want (and don’t want) to spend time with. But in the office, that’s darn near impossible. You usually can’t just avoid the person who inspires dread every time you see their name pop up in your inbox or on a conference call invite. So how do you handle it?
Often when someone irritates me, I find that it’s more of an internal trigger (although this isn’t always the case). Does something about their behavior mimic something I don’t like about myself? If the answer is yes, I need to go home and work on myself. If no, then I try to recognize behavior patterns from the other person so I can control my own emotions when I see that they’re about to engage in behavior that triggers me. While reflecting, I also try to see the other person’s point of view. This method isn’t necessarily solution-driven, but it does help me empathize with the other person and perhaps understand them better.
Another solution is to limit interactions with the person, whether they be a coworker or a client. I like to do this by sending overly detailed, clear emails for the task at hand to minimize the need for follow-up emails, meetings, or phone calls. It’s also wise to know when you’ve reached your interaction limit with the person and send in a substitute when necessary. I’d gladly thank a coworker with a Starbucks surprise when he or she takes one for the team and handles a situation for me.
Lastly, I simply remind myself that not everyone is a match. Some personalities will clash until the end of time, and you just have to be okay with that. Not everyone is going to like you and you’re not going to like everyone, but if you can manage to deal with difficult people with grace, you’re ahead of the curve.