Are difficult colleagues becoming too much for you to handle? In order to be diplomatic, you should employ this simple advice to help you confront and deal with an office bully.
- know that you can’t just avoid them
- change up the way you approach the person
- know people have limited ways of behaving
- stand firm with the steamroller
- disarm the guerrilla
- forget to small talk the silent type
- underestimate active listening
- forget to clear your mind
- forget the power of the leveller
Difficult people cause increased tension in the workplace and lower staff morale. Left unattended they can ruin the quality of our lives. As many as 10% of people in organisations are likely to use difficult behaviour such as sulking, mood swings, tantrums or guerrilla tactics to get their own way. So, unless you work alone, you’re unlikely to avoid these people.
What happens when we encounter colleagues with difficult behaviour? We are likely to adopt our usual approach, only trying harder. This often has the opposite effect to the one we want, making the other person dig their heels in even more. Try out a different approach than the usual being nice, or avoidance tactics.
People who repeatedly use behaviour such as sulking, arguing, or throwing tantrums may do so because they are limited in the number of responses they have to communicate with. We can’t change other people, but we can change our responses to their behaviour. The more ways we know of responding to others, the more likely we are to have the outcome we want. You need to know some of the most common behavioural types that you are all likely to encounter.
The steamroller needs to control the environment around them; they can be aggressive and demanding and may contradict or ignore what you say. Their aim is to get their own way. To counteract steamroller behaviour stand firm; show this verbally and with your body language. Avoid arguing with them and stick to the point. If you don’t agree with what they are saying, say so and ask for more information. If they cut in while you are speaking, say, ‘You interrupted me!’ and continue speaking.
The guerilla undermines your efforts with sarcastic comments. The attacks often come under the guise of good-natured jokes or in criticising your behaviour or decisions in front of other people. To tackle a guerrilla, first get them alone, and then say something positive to build a little rapport thereby disarming them. Ask if their comments were really meant to have a go at you. State that if they do have a criticism, you would prefer to hear it and, if their points are valid, be able to learn from it.
The silent type responds minimally without committing themselves: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘I suppose’. Passing the time of day with these people is virtually impossible and getting anything else from them takes special skills. To disarm the silent type, put them at ease with small talk before tackling the main issues. Don’t feel obliged to make conversation if there are long silences. Ask open-ended questions to get them involved, tell them what you expect. End the interaction in a friendly way.
In stressful situations we may get caught up with how unreasonably we think the other person is behaving or what we want to say next, and assume we know what they are going to say. But we need to listen actively to colleagues to understand how they perceive the situation, their feelings, and the underlying messages they are giving us.
Adopt the following technique to help you keep a clear mind.
- Assess the situation.
- Stop wishing people were different.
- Step back and notice the key points in the person’s behaviour, which may give clues to why they are acting the way they are.
- Understand your strategy.
- Master the situation.
- Expect to have to do this again.
When dealing with difficult colleagues, the best position to adopt under pressure is that of the ‘Leveller’. When you are levelling you are being truthful about your own thoughts and feelings; all parts of your messages, verbal and non-verbal, agree. Relationships are easy, free and honest, and people feel no threat to their self-esteem.
Knowing some of the common behavioural types that you will most likely encounter during your time at work, is key in knowing how to deal with these specific people. Each have their own way to approach, and the best thing is for you to be assertive and confident about your skills and yourself so that you have the power to succeed.