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6 Tricks for Dealing with Difficult People

June 30 2011

As a broker, you’re required to interact in a professional setting with many strong personalities. Not only must you interact with them, you require their cooperation in order to do your job. Navigating the treacherous path of interpersonal communication is a big part of your day. But when it really gets sticky is when one of your colleagues is just plain “difficult.” Do you have strategies to deal with this? Here are a few.

1. Keep your cool.
The best way to escalate a conflict is to react. Stay calm, watch your words, and avoid confrontation. If you feel like saying something negative, walk away and give yourself some time to cool down before you interact with this person again. If you do decide to say something to them, you'll say it in a much more constructive way if you give yourself some time to think.

2. Try to understand where your teammate is coming from.
Most of the time, when someone isn't playing nice, it has absolutely nothing to do with you. To prove this, you should try to understand their motivations. There are a few likely culprits:

  • They feel inadequate. This lack of self-confidence could be about their appearance, their sales record, their education or experience, or a thousand other things.
  • They're feeling overwhelmed. When you get so busy that you can't keep up, doesn't it make you a bit grouchy? Too much work and too little sleep can make anyone feel off their game; and it can certainly lower your tolerance for other people.
  • They're struggling with something in their personal life. Maybe their child is ill; maybe their marriage is falling apart; maybe they're losing their home to foreclosure.

3. Be self-reflective.
Before you start blaming others for a strained relationship, be clear about your own contribution. Are you overreacting to subtle signs? Do you have some buttons that can be too easily pushed? If you recognize and resolve your own issues, you can at least say that you've done your best to be successful.

4. Give sincere flattery a try.
Note: the operative word here is "sincere." Everyone has a strength, something that they do well. Recognize your difficult teammate's strength and compliment them on it. If it rings true, it could be a great way to build rapport.

5. Be diplomatic.
When things get to a certain point, it may make sense to sit down with this colleague and talk about the situation. You MUST MUST MUST do this in a way that feels safe for the other person. That means you should have the conversation in a private and neutral space.

Making your conflict public will be a huge step back. So don't complain about the person to others. Don't try to have a heart-to-heart talk with the difficult teammate in a high-traffic area where you may be overheard or, even worse, bring it up in a meeting.

6. Minimize non-work-related contact.
This is sort of a last resort. If you've tried everything, and you just can't seem to turn the tide, it's time to minimize unessential contact. Clearly, you'll still have to interact and collaborate at the office, but when you're not discussing an important project, talk about the weather or don't talk at all.

What's YOUR trick?