Dealing with Difficult Co-Workers: Mindful Insights
Updated: Jun 29
In this article, I share mindful strategies to help you transform frustration and barriers into empathy and productivity.
Learn to improve collaboration and optimize your energy—no matter the challenge!
Let’s face it, most of the time the actual task at hand is not the challenge at work. In fact, a majority of my clients—from leadership to support staff, have voiced their constant frustration over difficult co-workers, bosses, and even external clients.
Can you relate?
I know I’ve most certainly have had my share of these arduous situations and understand first hand how this can impact our own productivity not to mention our confidence (even as leaders).
When this topic arises, I'd like to remind you that you are in your specific role because you are (most likely) qualified to be there. This reminder is often needed when you give in to self- doubt or when your confidence begins to plummet from the constant insubordinate or passive aggressive behavior from your difficult direct reports or colleague(s).
Does this sound familiar?
You may have the great ability to juggle deadlines, create in depth action plans, and find solutions to complicated technical problems. However, one common barrier (no matter what industry or function) is dealing with difficult people!
What if I told you that the person who causes you so much angst is actually your GIFT?
Yes, it’s true.
You see, when we’re able adopt a growth mindset, we realize that this challenging person is actually allowing us the opportunity to practice a new way of thinking, behaving, and being.
Have you ever heard of the saying: "Nothing Changes/If Nothing Changes?"
I firmly believe that the same type of people will continue to show up on our path until we learn to Change It Up®!
We must respond differently— glean best practices from our past experiences, then leverage those lessons to create a different (more productive) way forward.
I'd like to share a little trick that will help you open up to thinking beyond your current situation.
Write down the phrase from above— Nothing Changes IF Nothing Changes when you feel that you are trapped in any difficult situation. Practice saying this statement each time you think you are stuck. This will help you turn the attention inward to identify the changes you must make in order to transform the situation.
Let’s Talk About Change For a Moment.
Long-term or impactful change rarely happens overnight. We must develop a plan that’s aligned with our greater good, stay focused and be consistent before we see transformation take place. Eventually, if we stay true to our new belief system and remain on course, we'll accomplish the change we desire. Now, that’s not to say that nothing can change overnight.
So, what can we change immediately?
Yes, this can be an immediate shift. And, in order to change our mindset—it all starts with increasing our self-awareness.
The Importance of Awareness.
It’s imperative to harness your awareness in order to best show up for any and every interaction you have with others. You must be able to connect with yourself first.
For example, when you don’t feel well or haven’t had enough sleep you are more likely to feel depleted or on edge and your response (or interpretation) may not be aligned with what the other person is actually saying. This then initiates the response (tone) you may have with the other person. And in turn, they may become defensive or feel misunderstood and that’s how a negative interaction ignites.
Having a solid sense of self can exponentially increase your ability to deal with difficult people.
Do you know your personality type or color?
Meyers-Briggs and Insights are both great tools to uncover and better understand your emotional intelligence level and propensities. If you haven't already done so, I highly recommended taking these assessments. Once you have a better grasp of self you can then look outward.
Understand your Audience.
It’s uber important to understand who you’re interacting with.
It also helps to know their personality type or color (if that info is available) so that you can flex your communication style to meet the other person in the middle. However, don't compromise your integrity, beliefs, or expertise. Instead, approach each interaction with a clean slate without judgment or assumptions. (I know this can be tough!)
Remember, everyone shows up to each interaction based on how they are feeling in that moment. Even if this person has a track record of being an extreme challenge, it doesn't mean that they aren't working on themselves internally. Or unbeknownst to you, something shifted in their personal life that is allowing them to feel better about themselves, and in turn will be 'nicer' at work. The point is, we just truly never know what anyone may be battling inside.
Change Your Mindset to Improve Relationships.
When it comes to dealing with difficult people in general, it's important to realize that we cannot change the other person’s thoughts or behavior. On the surface, we generally understand this concept. However, when we are smacked in the face with a frustrating situation while juggling our 'to-dos', we can easily lose sight of this fact. And once this happens, we can spin out and give into the negative emotion which only perpetuates the unproductive situation. However, there is one small shift that we can make that has an enormous impact— Stop. Zoom Out. Recalibrate.
Power in the Pause.
It's important to pause when we begin to get frustrated in order to take a quick pulse on the situation. By doing this, we create an opportunity to draw our focus inward to tap into our awareness and growth mindset. Before you respond back to that passive aggressive email, please stand up and shift your energy by going to get water or if possible take a short walk.
Once we take this invaluable step, we realize that we can most certainly shift our mindset, perspective, and approach.
Shift in mindset & perspective is the key to changing any negative dynamic (at work and at home).
Master your Emotional Intelligence!
By definition, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
Basically, go from your head to your heart by tapping into how the other person may feel rather than think.
Ask Empathic Questions.
Please understand that it’s not always about people’s answers— we can learn a great deal from others based on their reactions, communication style, and body language.
Try to make a connection and build upon a commonality to break down walls.
But, what happens when you feel like you constantly hit a brick wall with a certain person?
I can totally relate to this, how about you?
I’d like to share a little secret—
FEAR is the #1 reason why people behave negatively.
If we peel back the layers, we’ll see that deep down the other person is projecting their own insecurities or negative past experiences.
I’m sure we can all relate to this at some point in our careers. Often times, we do get defensive or even overcompensate when we feel a ‘lack of’.
Now, I’m in no way suggesting that you need to be everyone’s therapist in order to create a positive dynamic. What I am recommending is that you take a moment to put yourself in their shoes and turn inward to take responsibility for your actions and reactions.
The key is to identify the gap.
Ask yourself— what seems to be the disconnect here?
Take these 3 Steps (RFS) to
Bridge the Gap:
Consider the ROOT— hone in on the other person’s mindset and behaviors. Use your emotional intelligence to gauge the situation and best approach for each interaction.
FLEX—meet the other person where their energy is (without being inauthentic, negative, or compromising too much of yourself). This will help build trust and break down barriers.
Create SPACE—allow the conversation to flow differently in order to feel you are being ‘understood’ (not just heard). And vice versa.
I hope you've found this article helpful for improving your relationships, communication, and productivity at work. If you'd like to further explore best practices on this subject, I’ve developed a FREE Roadmap called—
"7 Steps to Improve your Ability to Deal with Difficult Co-Workers".
I highly recommend you check it out!