Friday, 2 June 2017

Ways to deal with difficult personalities

Our differences are what set us apart from each other – they add a vibrancy and a dynamic to the workplace that just would not be enjoyed, were we all the same. Diversity brings challenge and discussion that enables us to produce work that is thorough and rigorous.

However, this multiplicity may mean that there are one or two personalities within our work environment that we find difficult to work with. Rather than let this cause conflict, it’s better to have a plan – and be armed with the communication skills you need to deal with even the most trying of colleagues!

This article from Psychology today outlines ten top tips for dealing with difficult people in the workplace – it’s a great place to start in identifying what personality type you are dealing with. Here’s the list:

  1. Keep your cool 
  2. 'Fly like an eagle"
  3. Shift from being reactive to proactive 
  4. Pick your battles
  5. Separate the person from the issue 
  6. Put the spotlight on them 
  7. Use appropriate humour
  8. Change from following to leading 
  9. Confront bullies
  10. Set consequence 

It’s a good starting point, but when deciding which approach will work best for you, do bear in mind that there are two types of difficult conversation that you could find yourself facing. It helps to prepare an approach for each, beforehand!

Planned conversations

Knowing that you are going to encounter a difficult conversation can be daunting, but it does give you time to prepare. Make sure you have your facts straight beforehand – plan what you want to get across and how you are going to say it. Think carefully how you will respond to questions, accusations or challenges. 

Unplanned conversations

Being ‘cornered’ on the spur of the moment can automatically put us on the defensive, which means we deal with matters emotionally, rather than rationally. Try and reflect on how you react in such circumstances before they arise and put some steps in place that will prepare you, such as mindfulness techniques or a ‘holding’ response that will help you communication rationally if you’re ever put on the spot.

Be self-aware…

With a little bit of self-awareness and a willingness to develop your own communication skills, it is possible to be able to navigate interactions with difficult people. The following qualities are invaluable when communicating with others:


We’re not talking about being bossy or bullish – assertiveness is about putting your point of view across clearly and with passion. Our assertiveness webpage gives you some tips on how to develop your own assertiveness.


Empathy is a willingness to see things from another’s’ perspective, an appreciation of how you would feel were roles reversed. Read more about the habits of empathic people >


Aiming for a win-win outcome really helps when developing relationships at work. Creating an outcome where everyone can benefit is a powerful leadership tool. Read more >

Verbal / Non-Verbal Language

How you communicate with others is about so much more than the words you use – it’s about your non-verbal cues as well. This previous blog outlines some counselling skills that will help you connect with others.

Keep calm and carry on…

Difficult conversations and interactions with others can escalate quickly. Here are some tips to help you stay calm and in the moment >

Dealing with difficult people is not something that people relish, however with planning and preparation it needn’t detract from the job you have to do – or indeed impact on your working relationships.

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