Work is the one place where we can’t choose who we spend time with. Inevitably, we end up with co-workers who push our buttons and make life at the office difficult. It’s in your best interest to learn how to keep your cool in frustrating situations. Here are five good ways to deal with difficult people in your professional life.
Take a Deep Breath
Counting to 10 before speaking is a proven way to keep your cool when faced with annoying behavior. When you feel hurt, angry or otherwise threatened, your nervous system gears up for a fight or flight reaction. This hardwired physiological response kept your ancestors alive in hunter-gatherer times, but today it’s more likely to get you in trouble if you act on it.
Take a few slow, deep breaths to soothe your nerves, and pause before you speak. In those 10 seconds, steer yourself away from defensiveness or counter-attack. Often the best way to respond to a difficult person is just to smile, nod, say thank you and go back to what you were doing.
Focus on Problem Solving
Negativity is a common difficult behavior in the workplace. All of us have at least one co-worker whose pessimism can be infectious. Pessimists also like to find scapegoats, thereby shielding themselves from blame or accountability.
The next time an officemate complains that finishing a big project before the deadline is impossible, say, “what do we need to do to make it happen?” When a difficult co-worker once again blames his unfinished work on IT’s system upgrades, ask how your team can plan around the upgrade schedule to ensure timely completion of work. Even the most diehard pessimist won’t be able to argue with your team-effort approach, and your penchant for problem solving will cast you in a positive light.
Diffuse Tension With Humor
Everyone loves to laugh. Just one smile can fill your brain with good feelings. Humor in the workplace can be tricky – you don’t want to make jokes at someone else’s expense – but a light touch can eliminate tension with difficult co-workers. Having one of those days when everything seems to go wrong? Say with a smile, “it must be a case of the Mondays.” Being able to laugh off difficulties is a good way to show your resilience and calm manner.
Take Your Mind Off Things You Can’t Change
Even when you’re able to keep your cool, it’s still frustrating to interact with difficult people on a regular basis. Since most people won’t change very much, you need some coping strategies to deal with their frustrating behavior. Just as you would when trying to quit a bad habit like smoking, use distraction to keep from dwelling on your co-workers’ flaws. Try listening to music at your computer or stepping outside to walk one lap around the building.
Talk to the Difficult Person Privately
Many people who are aggressive or otherwise frustrating to talk to in front of others seem harmless when you sit down with them one-on-one. If you’ve tried all other approaches and they haven’t worked, invite your problem co-worker to lunch. You might even learn that an issue in his or her personal life is the reason for acting out at work. One conversation might not solve all the issues, but you will have a better understanding of the situation, which can make you feel better and more in control.