Dealing with difficult people

Inspiration for this post came from a HBR article I'd been meaning to read for a while. My own biases and earned experiences make this topic cut a little close to the bone. What is most useful about these tips is, even when the other person might not be on our side, it is up to us to create the best situation for our own growth. Not reacting in a prescribed way, or a way the other party sees us normally reacting is a way to take back our power.


So, picture an email popping up from a colleague you usually don’t like dealing with. The message is regarding a project or document you are working on as a team. Your colleague wants to come to your desk and discuss some changes.

Depending on whether we see someone as an ally or a sworn enemy, we assume either the best or the worst in our dealings with them. In one scenario we build trust, learn to share and grow, and our work improves significantly. In another scenario, we feel defensive and unjustly criticized, our trust shuts down, we dread interacting or working with the person, and maybe our work suffers accordingly.

Here are some tips on confronting our own biases and building bridges instead of tearing them down.

Mindfulness or re-framing are two techniques that can pull us out of our fight or flight mode when confronted with these daily interactions and interpretations. See if these don’t make your day move more smoothly.


1. Mindfulness -Tune in to your body. Not all of us have psychic superpowers, not all of us are 100% aware of our feelings at a given moment. When in doubt your body will let you know. Is your heart pounding in your chest? Are you crossing your arms across your chest or stomach, are your shoulders moving up towards your head?  If so, your body is shutting down and preparing for the attack that may or may not be coming. Now you recognize the feeling, a good first step.


2. Stop and think. What are you assuming that is leading to this negative reaction? Are you making inferences or assumptions about what the other person is thinking about you?

If you mentally pictured an ally making the same comments would you have the same reaction? Is there something about these comments that you interpret as suggesting that you are not competent, not likeable, or that you are unimportant? Be aware of your assumptions.


3. Reframing, not easy either but its necessary to learn to do this so you aren’t falling into your own trap. Find a way to see a productive side to the situation. Maybe your colleague is depending heavily on this project to be perfect and is asking (in their own special way) that you are more generous with your time and effort. Maybe they see errors that you don’t see and they are invested in collaborating with you to help you grow. Be open to this perspective and see if it doesn’t help you to develop in some way. Ask some open ended questions to see if you can find where they are coming from, “you disagree with me on some of these points, what are you basing your disagreement on?”


For more on this check out the following article from Harvard Business School: