Shannon Freedle Has 10 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Coworkers

As a business executive, Shannon Freedle has worked with a diverse range of colleagues and clients throughout his career.  He recognizes that companies encompass a wide scope of personalities.  Each person has their own unique strengths and abilities to contribute.  With this mix of personalities also comes the potential for conflict.  Not everyone will necessarily get along all the time.  Some people find it difficult to relate to others who have views that greatly differ from their own.

Dealing with difficult people takes a certain amount of skill.  Over time people learn strategies to overcome these challenges and make the best of any situation.  Everyone has their own opinion of what makes another person difficult to deal with.  However there are several common strategies that can help to make these interactions less stressful:

  1. Stay positive.  Recognize that some people look for negativity.  They tend to focus on what is wrong or challenging rather than what is going well.  Do not let these people dominate the workplace.  Counteract these notions with a more positive view.  Stay calm and do not get worked up, advises Shannon Freedle.  They are often looking for a reaction.  Instead, remain in control and respond in a respectful manner.
  2. Communicate clearly.  Sometimes misunderstandings can lead to more difficult interactions.  Listen objectively to what the other person has to say.  Ask them to clarify anything that is unclear or to give further examples.  This can help to diffuse the situation because the other person feels more valued and understood.  The listener does not necessarily have to agree with what the other person is saying, but give them a chance to explain.
  3. Assess the situation.  Take a moment to evaluate the situation.  People should focus on their own response and whether or not it is appropriate given the circumstances.  They should recognize when they are overreacting or taking something too personally.   Some people have certain triggers that get them worked up.  Stepping back and assessing the bigger picture can keep them calmer and thinking more rationally, notes Shannon Freedle.
  4. Encourage problem solving.  If a colleague is focused on the negative, help them to gain a new perspective.  Identify what the problem is and how they can work to overcome it.  Their complaining may stem from a feeling of powerlessness over the situation.  Providing an alternative view may help them to refocus.
  5. Change the subject.   When a controversial subject arises that leads to rising tempers, attempt to diffuse the situation by changing the subject.  Do not engage in unproductive bickering.  Focus on a topic that can lead to a more positive outcome.  If that does not work, the person can excuse themselves from the conversation and return when things are calmer.
  6. Attempt to connect.  Sometimes it is beneficial to try to forge a connection with the difficult person, says Shannon Freedle.  Find some common ground.  Get to know them as a person rather than just a professional.  Taking the time to learn more about them can build a better rapport and stronger relations.  This can help both parties to see each other in a different light and appreciate one another’s similarities and differences.
  7. Confront the person privately.  If conflicting viewpoints are interfering with productivity, confront the other person privately.  Calmly and respectfully address the impact of their actions or words.  They may not realize how they are coming across.  Allow them to explain things from their perspective and hear them out.  Try to come to a mutual agreement on how to better work together.
  8. Agree to disagree.  Sometimes people just have to agree to disagree when they do not see eye to eye.  Shannon Freedle believes each person should focus on completing their own tasks and responsibilities and limit interactions to only when necessary.  Treat each other with mutual respect and work together to get the job done, but keep things professional.
  9. Ask for advice.  Consult with others who have experienced similar situations dealing with difficult people.  Find out how they handled the situation and what insight they can offer.  Keep an open mind and a willingness to see things from different perspectives.  Looking at the bigger picture can help to bring things into focus and help facilitate more effective responses.
  10. Seek help.  When a person has reasonably tried to handle a difficult situation on their own to no avail, they should seek additional support.  Talking to their supervisor or manager can help to more effectively address the issue.  They may offer additional strategies to try or intervene as an authority figure.

Shannon Freedle notes that it is important to remember that everyone is dealing with his or her own struggles in life.  A person may seem difficult to deal with as a result of something they are going through personally.  Try to remain compassionate and understanding.  It may blow over.  If the situation persists, then take reasonable steps to resolve it.  Focus on making personal changes as well as initiating problem-solving strategies.  Remember that there are two sides to every argument.

Focus on creating a positive work environment where others feel valued and supported, recommends Shannon Freedle, and this can help to reduce conflict.