Difficult people cause all kinds of problems in the workplace and make life miserable for their coworkers. For example, a person who misses deadlines can cause coworkers who are forced to pick up the slack to become resentful. A person who constantly complains can lower morale in the workplace. Being able to deal with a difficult person is a skill that can serve you well in the workplace and can help you avoid or overcome awkward situations.
If you can identify what types of difficult people you're dealing with, you can better determine what motivates them to behave the way they do. Once you know the motivation for their behavior, you can understand how to deal with and or avoid the issues they cause. However, just because you see someone as difficult doesn't mean that person necessarily is.
Factors such as gender, race, culture, and religion can affect behavior in the workplace. It's important to understand these differences and consider them before labeling someone as "difficult." What may seem offensive to one person may seem completely normal to a person from a different cultural background. For example, one person may see no problem with addressing a superior by the person's first name. However, someone from a different cultural background may see this as a sign of disrespect.
If you think about it, you can probably think of times when your behavior has caused problems for someone else. Before you can think about a plan for dealing with someone who you feel is being difficult, you should look at your own behavior to see if it could be something you did that's causing the problem. It may be a good idea to talk over the situation with someone you trust, such as a coworker, friend, or family member. This person may be able to help you determine whether it's your behavior that needs to change.
For the most part, people themselves aren't really "difficult." However, they do exhibit difficult behaviors. It's these behaviors that cause negative reactions from others. Some examples of the types of behaviors that can cause problems at work include being negative or disruptive, poor attendance, a lack of focus, or an unwillingness to change.
People who exhibit difficult behavior may do so because of the environment they're living or working in. Or they may be under a lot of pressure and feeling the effects of stress. It's important to examine the person's behavior over a period of time. If the behavior is out of the ordinary, the person may simply be having a bad day.
Difficult behavior needs to be dealt with in a timely fashion. If allowed to continue, it can get worse over time. People who feel that their behavior helps them get what they want have little incentive to change.
Types of difficult people
Most difficult people that you'll encounter in the workplace can be divided into five general types:
- aggressive – Aggressive people tend to be rude and intimidating, trying to control others by behaving like bullies on a playground. They may use tactics such as yelling and threatening to frighten coworkers. Or, in the case of passive-aggressive people, they may try to control you by dropping hints to make you feel sorry for them, rather than just asking you directly for help. For example, they may say something like, "I hope I can finish this project tonight. I'm not feeling well and I may not be in tomorrow," rather than just asking if you could help them finish the project. In a worst-case scenario, aggressive behavior in the workplace can lead to violence.
- negative – Negative people complain about everything but never have suggestions for how to improve anything. They only seem to be happy when they're spreading misery to everyone else. Negative people keep their coworkers from getting their work done by constantly distracting them. They also bring the people around them down. Coworkers may start to ignore negative people, which can lead to another problem. On the rare occasion that the negative people really do have something that needs to be brought to their coworkers' attention, chances are nobody will be listening.
- procrastinator – Procrastinators find reasons to put off doing their tasks. They often have trouble getting started and spend time thinking of excuses for why they can't get their work done. Procrastinators are often afraid of failure. In their minds, missing a deadline is better than submitting poorly done work. Procrastinators will often have trouble meeting deadlines and require more time to complete a task than their coworkers. In cases where production depends on a number of tasks being completed by different people, a procrastinator can throw everything off. Coworkers may be forced to pick up the slack and will eventually become resentful.
- manipulative – Manipulative people use their charms to coax and maneuver their coworkers to suit their own needs. Manipulators are self-centered and don't care about anyone else's wants or needs. They enjoy being the center of attention – it doesn't matter to them how they get there. When manipulators run into people who don't give them the answers they want, they often turn to threats to get their way. For example, a manipulator who feels secure in the workplace may threaten to quit if the boss won't give her what she wants. Manipulators see no problem with using whatever tactics they deem necessary to get their coworkers to help them out. However, they would seldom put themselves out to help someone else.
- self-serving – Self-serving people believe in getting something for nothing. They don't see value in achieving things through hard work. They tend to believe that what they feel is best for them is really the fair and moral choice.
Sometimes, you might think people are being difficult when they really aren't. Saying or doing something you don't like doesn't necessarily make a person difficult. For example, a boss may need to give corrective feedback to an employee. The employee might be upset about the feedback, but the boss isn't being difficult. She's just doing her job.
The types of difficult people encountered in the workplace can be divided into five general types: aggressive, negative, procrastinating, manipulative, and self-serving. If you can identify the types of difficult people you're dealing with, you can better understand how to deal with their behavior and the issues they bring with them.