No matter what industry or business you work in, no matter what department or function you work for, the chances of you working with or managing a difficult individual at some point in your career are high. These are a few tips to help you deal with difficult characters.
1. Don’t avoid the issue. Avoiding the issue generally leads to a worsening of the situation – the individual may feel that you don’t care about them and may become even more difficult as a result. If you feel that the behaviour needs to be challenged, then give feedback in a calm, measured way. Stick to the facts of the situation - the specific behaviour that you have observed and the impact this is having on others - as this will help to defuse the emotion.
2. Difficult behaviour in the workplace is most often not the result of someone’s personality but rather other issues or factors affecting the individual. For example, difficulties in someone’s personal life can often lead to increased tensions and inappropriate behaviour at work. Try to discover the reason for the difficult behaviour. Find a quiet, private area to have a conversation. Listen carefully to what the individual has to say, empathise with them where you feel it is appropriate, and determine with the individual what can be remedied.
3. "Kill people with kindness". The saying that "behaviour breeds behaviour" is all too true. How often have you seen angry customers become even angrier when they are met with indifference or anger in return? The more calm, measured and affable you are with the difficult individual, the more likely it is that they will realise their behaviour is inappropriate.
4. Use humour where possible. Humour is one of the best ways to defuse potentially upsetting or difficult situations. When someone laughs, it eases tension in the body and makes them more relaxed. Just ensure that the humour is appropriate to the situation!
5. Consider whether it is worth looking at the situation with a different "set of eyes". If you work closely with someone whose behaviour is difficult, you may have a biased view of the situation. Ask someone independent (e.g. a friend, relative, trusted colleague from a different department) what they think of the situation and what they would do in those circumstances. You may end up with a better solution than if you had thought about it alone.