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Managing Difficult Personalities In The Workplace: Tips To Maintain Your Sanity

Over the last year, one of my main challenges in the workplace has been learning how to manage difficult personalities.  I’m hoping most you can relate to this since it’s something I hear about all the time and having experienced this I understand how hard it can be.

In my line of work we tend to talk about feelings, all day, everyday.  My husband teases that we do too much of this but it is the crux of what we do.  But he does make a good point.  That being we need to draw a line between feelings and business as we can’t let our feelings and the need to process them cloud major business decisions.  Still, we have to find a balance between how we feel about someone and getting through the business of the day.

I could go through a slew of tips and tricks to manage, trick and outsmart your worst and most hated enemy in the workplace.  But, frankly, they all boil down to one thing.  Managing your level of reactivity to those coworkers who work your last rotten nerve.

Having read a few books by Deepak Chopra, specifically, The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success and just being an overall fan of his work I remember a tweet and I think it really changed how I interacted with people.

Those who are defensive and reactive find it impossible to have healthy relationships

And, just like that I did some introspection and managed to change how I reacted to the offenses and more importantly for the purposes of this blog, the difficult personalities I deal with on a daily basis be it coworkers or clients.  I’m not perfect, no where near it, but I am truly more conscious of myself in difficult situations.  Plus, it’s an energy drainer to deal with people like this.  My aura is nothing to be messed with.

Is It Worth It?

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves is it really necessary to react to everything a coworker does, even it you know it is meant to spite or hurt you?  Now, before you launch into “I’m not a punk…I’ll put them in your place” blah blah blah, think about what’s at stake and who is watching your reaction to that irksome coworker?  No one can steal your peace, but you don’t have to give it away by reacting to each and everything issue that comes up.  Trust when I say that your boss is watching how you handle yourself and more importantly your enemy at work.  Stop giving them the reaction they want and the thrill of seeing you seethe will subside along with the need to be petty.

Everyone reacts at some time with defensiveness in order to protect themselves: It’s universal. Those who are defensive and reactive find it impossible to have healthy relationships. Once you are aware of what sparks your own defensiveness and that of others, you can make the choice to act and react differently.

Must You React In Kind?

The need to react to others in a negative manner is often about ourselves more so than it is about the actions of the other person.  Once they have you by your proverbial neck, entangled in a nasty exchange you’ve lost as you’ve given them your peace and power.  This person more often than not is struggling with something that has very little if nothing to do with you.  Muster up a bit of compassion and note how you react differently moving forward.

Compassion:  The Answer

I could tell you stories of how this has worked for me in the last few months but I won’t go there least of all  give you specifics.

But, I will say that things changed once I realized the bigger picture.  That is, the person who had the major axe to grind needed more compassion from me than disgust.  While I was frustrated on a daily basis, deep down I felt this person’s pain which predated the interactions with me.  I was merely a symptom and once I embraced that my interactions became easier.  It was easier to focus on the mechanics of our differences rather than the emotional part of me that wanted to scream every time they did something wrong.

And, like that, that one quote really changed my perspective.  Hopefully it does something for you as well.  Knowing this, hopefully it empowers you to react differently to offenses knowing that this is more about you and maintaining your peace than it will ever be about them.

  • Angelique Andrae

    This is so true, great post!  Compassion is definitely the key…and that means compassion for yourself as well as the other person.

    Whenever someone annoys me lately, I think to myself, “What is their ‘suffering’ that is causing this behavior?”  Just the process of asking this question changes my whole attitude.  It realeases me from my own annoyance and anxiety (or at least lessens it) and gives me the ability to respond in a much healthier way.

  • jools

    Wise words!

    I think most people are fundamentally good and, as you say, if they are being less than cooperative then it's probably because of some external factor that's put them in a bad mood. There are some people, however, who all evidence suggests are just a**holes and treat people badly whatever the weather. I've found it easiest to just accept them for what they are, and know it doesn't have anything to do with me. If you're not in a position to do something about it, getting angry at an a**hole for being an a**hole is about as much use as getting angry with the rain because it's wet.

    (Of course a sensible person would carry an umbrella and take steps to avoid working with a**holes if possible!)

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  • http://shansteffen.com Shannon Steffen

    Thank you Ginger for this awesome and very timely blog post. Luckily, I work out of a home office so I don't have to deal with difficult coworkers. However, there do exist difficult clients, peers and others that just love to irk others. I had always taken the "don't let them get to you approach" but sometimes it gets too much that you can't help but snap.

    That was until I read your quote about defensive and reactive people. It truly takes too much of my energy to respond to the people and, as you said, you need to pay attention to "who is watching your reaction". That, there, is the key of it all. You may react to one person but those that are present are being engaged with as well – even if it is on a different level.

    In essence, it comes to the point of leading by example. Never sway from who you truly are and don't feed the trolls.

    Thank you!

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