Like it or not, there will be a few people (lucky for you it’s not more!) at work that you find it hard to work with. Some may already have a notorious reputation in the office – the boss’ daughter, the power-hungry CEO, the master manipulator – or it could be just towards you. Sad is the case if yours is the latter. 🙂

But it’s time to stop complaining and start exploring how you can overcome the problem.

Why bother? Well, you and I know no matter how difficult the person is, you still need to work with them. Sure, you can avoid them altogether, but let’s take it as a challenge first before throwing in the towel, shall we?

TIP 1: Validate them

Sometimes people just want to be seen, heard or acknowledged. Ok, you can say they are craving for attention, or they have a chip on their shoulder, but most of the time, it’s not that serious. Approach them with a positive outlook, bring them a little thoughtful gift and have a conversation with them. And remember: Don’t judge them!

There is this Triple A rule that I find true over time, generations, culture and background, and that’s Attention, Acknowledgement and Affirmation. It’s pretty much human nature to “naturally” want those As (you gotta admit that you sometimes crave for that too), and part of validating the difficult person is by giving them these three!

TIP 2: Use “open” gestures

When talking to them, avoid crossed arms or legs, or giving them “the hand/palm”. This sends a message that you’re tensed or closed-off when you’re with them, even though you may not mean it.

Here’s the thing about body language: don’t take the gestures of others too seriously, but be mindful of the potential meanings of your gestures.

Conversely, you can maintain an open body gesture, such as opened arms, leaning in, tilting your head slightly and nodding here and there throughout the conversation. This suggests to the other party that you’re “open” to them, and keen to know more about what they have to say.

TIP 3: Find out who works well with them

It’s quite impossible for the difficult person to have zero friends at work. It’s very hard to work in a silo in any company, because like it or not, team work always beat the effort of one.

None of us is as smart as all of us. – Ken Blanchard

Research a little and find out who are their friends and notice what techniques are used to work with them. Sometimes it could be colleagues from other departments, or even outside the business too!

Become an investigator and you may be thrilled with your discoveries.

TIP 4: Observe their routines, habits, choice of words

No, I’m defiantly not asking you to be a stalker! Instead, casually just observe the little things they do. It could be a breakfast that they always bring to the office, a certain type of stationery they use, words that are repeatedly used in a conversation and more. Those are like the keys to unlock their personality secrets, and allow you to leverage on that to build a better relationship.

In the case of the stationery, maybe gift it to them whenever there is a chance. Say something like “I noticed you like this brand of pencils, and I happened to know one of the suppliers, so I thought I’ll get some for you. Let me know if you want to get them cheaper than the market.”

Be subtle, though. Like I said earlier, don’t give them the idea that you’re stalking them or trying to suck up to them.

TIP 5: Have a private talk with them in a non-confrontational setting

My mom always said that honesty is the best approach, and sometimes, it could what the difficult person needs.

Secretly, he or she could be waiting for someone to approach them, and that’s your chance. Of course don’t confront them straight on or get your colleagues to gang-up against them. A cornered person will just become defensive, and that’s not gonna help improve the situation at all.

Instead, start by “Hi Michelle. We’ve been working together for the past months and can I take a few minutes of your time to discuss how we can work better?”

Asking permission and giving them space may encourage them to open up.

TIP 6: Think in their shoes

Putting yourself in their shoes allows you to somewhat experience what goes through their mind and their hearts. This is another way to validate them (step 1).

Could it be the pressure of the position they are in?

Is it something that I’ve said that she personally finds distasteful?

There’s this story I heard of Rose, who had always been a good employee to her boss, Lily. But of late, Rose realised that Lily was exceptionally hard on her, and the relationship strained. At one point, Rose couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to tender her resignation, thinking that Lily has a personal issue against her and did not want to resolve it.

It was then that Lily revealed she will be transferred over to a new branch in a few weeks, and her replacement was known to be difficult. As it turned out, the change of attitude was because Lily wanted to train Rose up to be ready for the harder times to come, and had her interest in mind all the while. Sure, Lily could have chosen a better way to inform Rose, but the truth was, she was also sad to leave her position.

People are only as resourceful as the states they are in.

TIP 7: Take it easy

Has it ever occurred to you that maybe because you’re tensed, you’re causing the other party to be tensed too?! Just take a breather, eliminate the nervousness, and calm those anxieties. Emotions are contagious, and who knows, by doing so, you are affecting them as well.

It may sound wishy-washy, but seriously, try it.

Handling the ‘tough nuts’ in the office does not always need to be difficult. All it takes is a good attitude and some “moves” up your sleeves, like the seven mentioned above.

And really, sometimes you can put in all the effort, but the difficult person may still choose to be difficult. Well, at least you’ve tried, and I’m always reminded of what John Maxwell told me about the Bob Principle,

When Bob has a problem with everybody, Bob is usually the problem.

It’s your turn now. Any tips up your sleeves when it comes to working with difficult people?

Business Development Strategist, Email Wizard, Content Magician and a Productivity Optimizer (codename: lazyass+cheapass), Maverick produces content for a living. With over 93% of his business starting from a simple (and often cold) email, Maverick consults SMEs, MNCs and startups on how to leverage on technology and creative story-telling to supercharge sales and rev-up customer engagement. When he's not working to put food on the table (and Lego in his son's collection), Mav loves to cafe-hop around the region with his partner-in-crime, Debbie.

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