Difficult people make things…well…difficult!

At some point in everyone’s career, they will have to deal with difficult people.  Whether the difficult people are attorneys, staff, admins, or team members, the experience is not pleasant and can be destructive to one’s self-esteem and even to one’s health. Plus, it also costs the firm money in employee absenteeism and usage of the Employee Assistance Program. So how do you deal with that kind of person and still remain diplomatic and calm?

According to a study commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute in 2014, 27% of employees experienced abusive conduct at work. The report further states that bosses are still the majority of bullies and 72% of employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize, or defend it.

How to Deal with a Difficult Person

  1. Set limits on What You Can Tolerate
    Everyone has a limit. You can only handle so much before you break down and cry or feel sick to the stomach. Determine that limit and know you must take action.
  2. Maintain Your Composure
    The less reactive you are the more you can use your better judgment. Be diplomatic and calm.
  3. Stay Away
    Try to avoid the person if you can. Create a healthy distance so that you are out of their sights.
  4. Concentrate on Problem Solving
    Try not to misunderstand or misinterpret their written or verbal behavior. It is possible that the person meant nothing by their communication and only expressed a negative tone. Be empathetic and try to see it from the other person’s point of view. Although their behavior is unacceptable, they may be under a lot of stress and have a demanding boss.
  5. Document the Person’s Behavior
    Keep a journal of the difficult person’s actions. I did exactly that so when I spoke with Human Resources, I had real stories and did not make generalizations.
  6. Determine if Co-Workers are Being Mistreated Too
    If so, get them to document the behavior so you have support.
  7. Put the Spotlight on Them
    If you become defensive, their behavior will escalate. Remain calm and respond in a way that minimizes their behavior. For example:
    Difficult Person: “The report you sent to me does not include all the events on my cases. I’m tired of having to correct you all the time.”
    You: “I’m sorry. What events are you referring to that I missed?”
    Difficult Person: “You are so unreliable and worthless.”
    You: “If you treat me with disrespect like that, I am not going to talk with you anymore. Is that what you want?”
  8. Confront the Person Safely
    After you determine how much you can handle, confront the difficult person. I know it is hard to do but it needs to be done. Sometimes people do not realize that they are being difficult, rude, and bullying. You can even practice with a friend before the confrontation.
  9. Go to Your Manager or Human Resources
    You have tried everything but it is not working. Your only recourse is to speak with the appropriate people that can assist.

In conclusion, dealing with difficult people and bullies is exhausting, demoralizing, and unhealthy. The best approach is to master the art of communication. As you utilize these skills, you will experience greater confidence, better relationships, and the power to deflect negative behavior.

See How to Cleanse a Toxic Workplace for more information.


So how do you deal with difficult people?