Name someone you consider difficult. When I say difficult, I am referring to those who can be persistently stubborn, irrationally rebellious, consistently annoying or plain rude in their actions. They may be super achievers but their behavior can make you wish they would just leave. Or they may be poor performers in addition to being difficult. To take this discussion forward, let’s refer to them simply as teammate. It will serve as the first step in separating the person from the problems they can create.

Personalities are often developed based on our life stories. Often teammates who rebel against authority are struggling with their own insecurities. Teammates who constantly disagree with the team, may have doubts about how well they are accepted by the team. Teammates who behave disrespectfully, may be struggling in life even if it appears otherwise. In a lot of cases, when you change your attitude towards this teammate, the probability of behavioral change increases. Labeling someone negatively does not usually help anyone and is definitely not the solution.

Another action step for you is to establish your position in the relationship. Your confidence in who you are in relation to the teammate can impact your ability to handle situations better. At work, if you allow the teammate to boss you around and get away with their actions, it will result in someone eventually getting fired or resigning. Watch out for signs of power play or victim mentality during your interactions. Being more aware of those signs will enable you to tailor your reaction more appropriately. Even if this teammate actually happens to be your boss, you can play your part in managing the relationship.

Sometimes your ability to manage the relationship and the situation could determine how difficult someone will be. There are certainly those who are meanly determined to cause trouble but a lot of people are simply difficult when you don’t manage that relationship well. Instead of avoiding the person and failing to deal with critical issues, try to maintain a polite positive relationship with the teammate.

Keep your emotions in check when dealing with a difficult situation. Often since the teammate has created problems in the past, we naturally view any future actions based on past motivations. However, their intentions might be different this time. Therefore, handle each situation more factually. It will enable you to control your emotions and result in better resolution. This does not mean that you fail to document the facts whenever an incident happens. Remember to document repeated incidents for future reference. This will also help you keep the facts clear and will be useful if disciplinary action is required in the future. This could apply to both work and outside-of-work situations.

Two approaches that might help in keeping your emotions in check: 

  • Think of them as your customer and yourself as the owner of a business. Some customers may be impossible to work with but we need every single one of them to turn a solid profit. When this teammate begins to bother you, remind yourself that your role/business success can be improved by how you deal with this customer.
  • Think of them as a child. This is the “sage” approach that the concept of Positive Intelligence introduces. Viewing the person as a cute little child might help you be more compassionate with them even while taking stern action. You might be able to appreciate this approach more when you are familiar with PQ.

Avoid delays in dealing with consistent problems. Your team or goals might be getting affected by them and the longer you ignore the problems, the more damage you may allow. The post on effective constructive feedback states how it is much easier to provide quicker feedback than when you delay it for longer than required. If you are already beginning to think of issues that you need to address with your teammate, take a few minutes to read that article on how to provide feedback effectively. If this is work related, refer to your company’s HR processes when taking active action.

Be consistent in your interactions with the teammate. If an action is unacceptable, don’t be more accepting of it one day and upset about it the next. Being polite while being assertive can have a powerful impact. Be honest and straightforward, whenever possible. Exclude the drama. If being blunt in your reaction results in a dramatic throw of tantrums, it is best to approach things differently. You might notice that instructions will work better than criticism. Be more intentional with your interactions with the teammate.

I hope these strategies help you. If all your efforts fail and things keep getting worse, please don’t hesitate to ask your supervisor/ Human Resources/capable confidant to intervene.

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