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Dealing with difficult co-workers and others

Everyone is challenged to deal with difficult people in all areas of our lives at some point in time. Unreasonable people are found in families, friends, customers, bosses, co-workers, etc.

The first step is to come to the realization that the only person you have control over is yourself. You can’t change other people. To try is generally futile.

There are some people who have been raised to be mean and some are evil to the core. There are others who are simply obnoxious. A sense of entitlement, jealousy, spite and other feelings or emotions are at the base of others’ actions, which makes it difficult to contend with them in any relationship.

Some people never learn that you can accomplish more with kindness than with a critical, demanding manner.

You may want to send the difficult person in your life to a desert island but that is not feasible. Following are some ideas on how to deal with difficult and unreasonable people in your life.

1. Acceptance — Accepting what is happening at the present time requires letting go of the wish that it will change by itself. You may just have to move on and forget it.

2. Anticipation — Being prepared by looking ahead to anticipate problems and where trouble is likely to occur will help in either mitigating it or avoiding it. Be vigilant.

3. Adaptability — Being willing to adapt to changes and being adjustable in your responses will help to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings. Practice good listening skills, empathy and openness. It may not always solve the problem but will make it more tenable.

4. Avoidance — Being around negative people will rub off on you, so the best approach may be to avoid them as much as possible. The way to handle this differs based on your relationship with the person. If the difficult person is your boss it will require a lot of patience and finesse. You may have to consider transferring to another department or finding another job.

5. Proactivity instead of reactivity — Concentrate your energy on solving the problem. Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. You may then be able to better understand the reasons for their behavior.

6. Confrontation — Confrontation may be necessary when dealing with a bully. Bullies will often pick on those they consider to be weaker.

Many bullies put up a front and are really a coward or feel insecure. This occurs in schools, on the job, between bosses and subordinates and between co-workers.

7. Become a leader — Take the lead. When a negative person is in control try redirecting the conversation, changing the topic, asking questions. Take a constructive, positive tone in your communication.

8. Separate the person from the issue — Communicate cooperation and respect even though it is not being shown to you. Be the better person. Be firm on the issue but soft on the person. Kill them with kindness.

9. Pick your battles — Avoid unnecessary conflicts and confrontations. You may win the battle but lose the war and make your situation even worse. Think twice to decide if the battle is worth fighting.

10. Keep your cool — Maintain your composure and don’t lose your temper. You may say some things that you will later regret. Don’t react negatively as it will only escalate the problem.

11. Weigh the consequences — Think before acting or reacting. The repercussions that may result could change your situation and make matters worse. There can be positive or negative results based on how you deal with the other person and the situation. You can be assertive without being aggressive.

The art of good communication solves more problems and avoids issues more than anything else. Be very careful not to allow the problematic people you deal with to taint your opinion of all.

There are bullies, control freaks, overly aggressive people everywhere. Do your best to build a calmer, more productive relationship, realizing that in the end, all you can control are your own actions and reactions.

Becky Vaughn-Furlow retired from Trustmark Bank as executive vice president and human resources director. She can be contacted by emailing