Dealing with Difficult People

Joyce B. Robinson

January 23, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

As postal employees, we are required to interact with co-workers, customers, supervisors and managers. We sometimes feel overwhelmed. To avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It might prove useful to learn how to “Deal with Difficult People.”

Recognizing Difficult People

There are several different types of difficult people. Below are some examples:

• The Passive Communicators – Never offer ideas or let you know where they stand.

• The Know It-Alls – Arrogant and usually have an opinion on every issue. When they are proven wrong, they become defensive.

• The Dictators – Bully and intimidate. They are constantly demanding and are brutally critical.

• The ‘Yes’ People – Agree to any commitment, yet rarely deliver. You cannot trust them to follow through.

• The ‘No’ People – Are quick to point out why something will not work. What’s worse, they are inflexible.

• The Gripers – Never have real grievances, but are constantly griping. They prefer complaining than finding solutions.

• Get it Done People – Focus on tasks. They pay attention and are detail orientated. When under pressure, they raise their voices and are direct and blunt.

• Aggressive People – Blame others for their mistakes and express anger in destructive ways. They are competitive, manipulative, create turmoil and walk around with a chip on their shoulder.

Handling Unreasonable and Difficult People

Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives but we should never allow them to ruin our day. To the right are strategies to handling unreasonable and difficult people:

• Don’t Take it Personally – A difficult person’s words can be viewed as a personal attack on others. This is not the case; their reaction and behavior are not about anyone else, it’s strictly about them. Never take it personally, you end up becoming offended. This causes you to react and become defensive, causing additional conflict.

• Just Walk Away – Do not waste time by trying to change or convince a person who is unlikely to change his/her opinion. Be diplomatic and interact with them only when necessary.

• Be Proactive – By avoiding personalizing other people’s behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People react the way they do because of their own issues and not because of anyone else.

• Separate the Person from the Issue – In every communication situation, there are two elements present: The relationship you have with the person, and the issue you are discussing. Focus on the issue.

• Put the Focus on Them – Most difficult people like to make others feel inadequate or uncomfortable and focus on “what done wrong,” instead of “solving the problem.” Avoid reacting defensively; this gives the aggressor more power. Change this dynamic by putting the focus back on the difficult person. Asking brief questions about what they expect of you.

We cannot change people but we can change the way that we react and respond to them. Listed are just a few suggestions that will aid you in “Dealing with Difficult People.” Putting these suggestions into practice will aid you in your everyday life.

Editor’s note: Resources include Pryor Learning Solutions, Inc.’s Dealing with Difficult People presentation and Psychology Today’s article “Ten Keys to Handling Unreasonable & Difficult People,” by Preston Ni.

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