how to deal with difficult people, dealing with difficult people

3 Secrets: How to Deal with Difficult People at Work

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We’ve all got them, right? The colleague that talks too much, too loudly, is dismissive of others. The person that dominates every conversation and seems to be oblivious to basic manners. Today we’re going to dissect the three secrets of how to deal with difficult people at work.

So here we go! 3 Secrets: How to Deal with Difficult People.


The first thing you have to realize is that being rude is a behavior, how one conducts themselves, especially toward others. The behavior is in no way indicative of the way they feel about you, their values, their beliefs or their motivators.

Both nature and nurture impact our behaviors. So we inherit some portion of our behaviors and the way we communicate from our parents and we learn some of it from our environment as we grow up.

The genetics and the environment that we learn in drive our understanding of how to behave and communicate. So, some people tell you what to do. Or they shhhh you when you’re speaking. They talk over you. Or they say things other people know are rude, like telling you that you look tired today.

It helps to have a framework for our behaviors or communication styles, so that you can understand how you behave and how that is different from others. It enables you to recognize the differences and pinpoint why the behavior seems rude to you. If you want to read more about Personality and Communication styles you can read our post here.

And this leads us to Secret #2 of how to deal with difficult people.


This one is super important. If you want to learn how to deal with a difficult people at work or otherwise, you have to understand their behaviors are not directed at you. In fact, they aren’t thinking about you at all. They are worrying about themselves, without any regard for you.

For people who are more sensitive to the wants and needs of others this is baffling. You may assume that a difficult person is putting forth effort to be rude. But the reality is that the person is doing what comes naturally to them without any regard for the impact on you.

Shocking, huh? Once you realize that difficult people are not trying to be rude to you, you will be better equipped to deal with them. They are just rude. Doesn’t that already make it more tolerable? That there isn’t malicious intent?

And this leads us to Secret #3 of how to deal with difficult people.


I once had a colleague who was rude to everyone. To clarify, he would dominate conversations, tell others not to interrupt him, but he would interrupt everyone else. He was incredibly intelligent, and I think that was part of his problem. He’d likely been rewarded and praised throughout his life because of his intellect, that he never had to develop his emotional intelligence.

At any rate, when we first started working together I found him intolerable, in spite of how smart he was. But I quickly realized his dominance and constant need to be the smartest person in the room had nothing to do with me. He wasn’t trying to make me feel dumb or to treat me that way. He was trying to help me understand what he knew.

So, over the years, I would listen. And, I would simply tell him the way I felt when he cut me off. Over time, we bonded.

Fast forward three years later, he cut me off FIVE times in one meeting. FIVE! It was so frustrating. I thought we’d been making progress, but this was a huge step backwards.

But do you know what? He called me that afternoon. TO APOLOGIZE! He said that it wasn’t his place to “shhhh” me and that he was sorry for doing so. Personal stressors had caught him off guard and he hadn’t realized how it impacted his behavior.

His apology was so impressive! Three years ago, he would not have realized he was cutting me off, nevertheless recognize it and proactively apologize.

If you can learn to appreciate the rude behavior for what it is – unintentional – you’ll be able to form a relationship with that person and capitalize on their unique gifts and contributions. The reality is, if you perceive that person is difficult, many other people will probably feel the same way. That rude person probably doesn’t have many meaningful connections and the slightest bit of effort on your part can lead to massive rewards.

It’s not always easy though. What tips or tricks do you have for dealing with difficult people? Feel free to leave a reply below!

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