Five Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

When I ask customer service professionals what they like about their job, a lot of them mention the people they serve and work with. When I ask them what they don’t like about their job, a lot of them mention … you may have guessed it … the people they serve and work with!

By far the majority of customers and co-workers are relatively easy to work with, but not all, and unfortunately, it’s the tough ones, the negative ones, the sometimes downright mean ones, we tend to remember.  It’s these negative customers or co-workers that, if we are not careful, get into our heads and bring us down.

“Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.” ~Shirley MacLaine

There are some people who seem to enjoy spreading discontent and negativity.  Their personal mission seems to be, “How many people can I make miserable before I call it a day?”

When faced with these individuals, what are some things you can do to avoid getting sucked into their vortex of negativity?  Here are some ideas for you:

Resist the urge to judge.

You don’t know their life story.  You don’t know the day they just had.  Perhaps this cranky, negative person in front of you is normally quite a reasonable, friendly person, but for whatever reason, their bucket is empty. All they have left is cranky negativity.  I’m guessing each and every one of us has had a moment we wish we could take back, a moment when we knew we acted badly.   Perhaps this is their moment.

Focus on what you can control … your response.

As much as you might want to pull out your magic wand and make this person disappear, or at least change their behavior, you can’t. All you can do is manage your emotions and ensure you don’t react in such a way as to escalate the situation.  If you feed into the situation with emotions, they will know they’ve got you.  Truly negative people are looking for a reaction. Don’t give them one.

Maintain a positive boundary.

Find your own tips and techniques to maintain your positive attitude.  Take a deep, calming breath.  Remind yourself of the positive people you’ve interacted with.  If you find yourself losing control, ask for help or excuse yourself for just a moment.

Be thankful.

People with negative attitudes have significantly higher rates of stress and disease than people who chose to focus on the positive. If someone is making life difficult for you and others around you, they are hurting themselves, just as much, if not more, than the hurt they are causing others.

How sad it must be to have so much anger, bitterness and negativity inside that the only way to feel a little bit better is to make someone else miserable.  Be thankful that is not you and make a determined effort to stay positive.

Don’t take it personally, but don’t necessarily discount the message.

Insensitive, tactless, perhaps even downright mean people sometimes have a valid point. Their delivery method leaves a lot to be desired, but don’t let that get in the way of identifying an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Bonus tip: Don’t take it personally.  Sometimes people speak with the sole intent of causing hurt, pain, anger, embarrassment.  Weigh what they have to say.  If you’re not sure as to validity or not, ask someone else for their opinion.  And if in the end, their sole intent was to hurt you, don’t let them stay in your head.  Don’t dwell on them or their hurtful words.

In the end, remember you can’t change others, but you can make your world, your work environment, more positive by becoming aware of how you respond to difficult people, by choosing to look at others with more compassion and less judgment and if you make a conscious effort to protect your positive space.

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