​How to deal with difficult people at work


​How to deal with difficult people at work

You meet a plethora of personalities during your working life. How do you deal with colleagues who are aggressive, intimidating or controlling?


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We encounter a plethora of personalities during our working life. Some we may find challenging, others we may think of as kindred spirits. Meeting people who are like-minded often makes workplace relationships seem easy.

But what do we do when a colleague comes across as aggressive, intimidating or controlling?

Are we doomed to a high conflict and over-stressed workplace? Or are there tools available to help manage these different types of behaviour.

Managing conflict

One such model was developed in the 1920s by Dr. William Moulton Marston, a Harvard psychologist.

The model outlines that people tend to develop a self-concept based on one of four factors – dominance, inducement, steadiness, or compliance (DISC).

There are other more recent theories, but they generally reference similar themes to what Dr Marston had to say.

AccessEAP, a corporate psychology organisation, says conflict can influence people in different ways. It can lead to having difficulty concentrating, feeling less productive, an increase in absenteeism and resignation.

“We worry that disagreeing or standing up to a colleague might lead to being reported to a manager or perhaps being seen as difficult,” says Sally Kirkright, CEO, AccessEAP.

“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t react when faced with a difficult situation. In fact, if you don’t, your career can suffer and you’ll fail to gain the respect and trust you want from others.

“With this in mind, we should focus on ‘how’ we say what we need to say and find ways to deal with different personalities in the workplace.”

Kirkright outlined how the DISC model could help to manage workplace conflict and challenging communications:

1. Understand the other person's focus

Understand the other person’s focus. Is your colleague task driven or people oriented? Do they focus on goals and activities? Or do they place more emphasis on relationships and interactions? When you understand where a colleague’s focus lies, then you can find a way of communicating that best meets both of your needs.

2. Understand the other person’s pacing

Are they slow to react and have difficulty processing information? Or are they reactive and fast-paced? If you can determine how they process and react to communications, you can pace your own communications in the best way to be understood.

3. Focus on the behaviour rather than the person

According to the DISC model, you can try to establish where a person’s behavioural styles best fit.

The four styles described by Guy Harris at discpersonalitytesting.com include: “People who have both outgoing and task-oriented traits often exhibit dominant and direct behaviours. They usually focus on results, problem-solving, and the bottom-line.

“People who have both outgoing and people-oriented traits often exhibit inspiring and interactive behaviours. They usually focus on interacting with people, having fun, and/or creating excitement.

“People who have both reserved and people-oriented traits often exhibit supportive and steady behaviours. They usually focus on preserving relationships and on creating or maintaining peace and harmony.

“People who have both reserved and task-oriented traits often exhibit cautious and careful behaviours. They usually focus on facts, rules, and correctness.”

4. Reflecting/paraphrasing

In your own words show the other person you have heard their viewpoint. This demonstrates you have understood and gives the person a chance to explain further until they feel they have been totally heard. Remember, understanding does not mean agreeing.

5. Avoid seeming judgemental

In order to communicate effectively, you need to set aside your judgement and withhold blame and criticism in order to fully understand the person. Where possible, build rapport and identify the other person’s perspective. Some of the most difficult communication scenarios, when successfully executed, can lead to the most profound connections with others.
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