Dr. Alan Zimmerman,
The same problems that plagued people in ancient times
are still with us today. People are still rude, selfish, insensitive, and
difficult -- some of the time. Unfortunately, you may be forced to work with
these difficult people. That's life.
In fact, a University of North Carolina survey found
that 78% of the respondents think rudeness and incivility have increased in
the last decade. And every one of the respondents could cite examples of
co-workers who had caused workplace conflicts or treated them in a
To make matters worse, difficult people definitely hurt
productivity. As the UNC research team reported in their results to
Industry Week and The Dallas Morning News, 53% of the respondents
said they lost work time worrying about a past or future confrontation with
a co-worker. 37% said a hostile confrontation caused them to reduce their
commitment to the organization. 28% said they lost work time because they
avoided the confrontational co-worker. And 22% said they put less effort
into their work because of confrontations.
Even though you may not like certain people or
situations they put you in, there are some things you can do to improve
working conditions and increase productivity.
1. Take an honest look at yourself
I remember one man who left job after job because he
found his co-workers to be annoying. He was easily flustered, and some of
his less-than-kind colleagues took a subconscious delight in flustering
Eventually, he learned that when he spoke he gave an
aura of being easily flustered. So he started to work on his self-confidence
and started to practice relaxation exercises. He became less and less
flustered. As he changed, his co-workers also changed. They became more
positive and less difficult.
If people around you are difficult, take a moment to
take an honest look at yourself. Is it possible that you're doing something
that contributes to their difficult behavior? Don't automatically assume
that you're totally innocent, and they're totally to blame for your
2. Find a point of entry
There is always
a way to get into the hearts of difficult people. It's like rowing around a
mountainous island, looking for a place to land. You may not find the
landing place immediately, but it's there. It just takes a bit of patience
while you search for the point of entry.
It's the same
with people. Their mountains, their blockades, their annoying behaviors
typically come from some pain they're suffering.
It's so easy to react to
the behavior of difficult people in a negative manner. After all, it's
difficult. It does hurt. You can judge people's behaviors. But you must be
very careful about judging the motives behind their behaviors.
3. Look for the lesson that can be learned from each
difficult person and each workplace conflict.
Instead of wasting your
energy on getting annoyed or defensive, focus on lessons that can be learned
while working with difficult people.
During one of my motivational speakers, one of my audience members, a Vice
President of a Fortune 500 company, said, "Whenever a difficult person
crosses my path, I ask myself, “What can I learn from this person'?" He
continued, “Perhaps that person was put in my path to teach me patience or
give me a chance to practice my skills in assertive communication.”
When you focus on the
lessons you’re learning, instead of the irritation you’re experiencing,
you’ll be in much better shape to respond to the workplace conflict in a
4. Take your time to think before you respond to a
difficult person during a workplace conflict.
Before you say or do
anything, figure out if it's worth it. How much time and energy do you want
to spend on that person and his or her behavior? Sometimes you'll want to
spend a lot, other times not.
Just don't get pulled into a hissing contest. You can go back and forth
forever as to who did what, who's to blame, and who started it. Does it
really matter? Always remember, worrying about what’s right is always more
important than worrying about who’s right.
In other words, take extra
caution before you offer advice. It's like the time Billie Burke, a famous
actress from a bygone era, was on a transatlantic cruise. She noticed a
gentleman suffering from a bad cold.
"I'll tell you just what
to do for it," said Billie. "Go back to your stateroom; drink lots of orange
juice, and take two aspirin. Cover yourself with all the blankets you can
find. Sweat the cold out. I know what I'm talking about. I'm Billie Burke
The man smiled warmly and
introduced himself in return. "Thanks," he said. "I'm Dr. Mayo of the Mayo
A final workplace conflict thought:
You don’t have to become the best of friends with that
difficult co-worker. You don’t have to spend a lot of time together. Just
look for your "point of entry," and you’ll get an immediate, positive boost
in your working relationships, and a substantial increase in productivity.
About the Author:
As a best-selling author
and Hall of Fame professional speaker,
Dr. Alan Zimmerman has helped more than one million people in 48 states and
22 countries become positive employees.