Skills 360 – Dealing with Problem People (Part 2)

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Thanks for tuning in to the Skills 360 Podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons. Before we jump into today’s lesson on dealing with problem people, I just want to mention the coming release of our Course Builder web app. With Course Builder members can create courses by searching and saving lists of BEP lessons. Take a look at the demo video on to see just how quick and easy it is to make a personalized course.

So we’ve been looking at how to deal with problem people. These are the people in your office that drive you nuts because they’re so difficult to get along with. Last week we talked about how to deal with specific incidents with difficult individuals. Today, we’re talking about ongoing issues.

This is about the constant thorn in your side, whether it’s your colleague, your boss, or the angry IT guy that gets annoyed every time you ask for some simple information. In extreme cases, these people can make you dread going to work each day. So how can we deal with them?

First of all, if there’s someone causing problems on a continual basis, it’s best to act instead of just reacting. Don’t let the issue, and your resentment, fester. The problem won’t go away all by itself, and if you wait to deal with it, there’s a good chance that when you do, you’ll lose emotional control. So be proactive. You know there’s a problem, now go out and do something about it.

And doing something about it means talking to the person causing the problem. But before I get into that, there are a couple of other tips I want to share with you. The first is to document everything. Keep a log or journal of the problem. Save relevant emails. Record dates, interactions, and details. This will give you clear points to take up with the person directly and also if you have to discuss the problem with a supervisor. My second tip is to let someone know that you’re experiencing a problem with someone – the person you tell could be a colleague or it could be your boss. Don’t whine and complain, and don’t ask for help. Just let the person know there’s an issue and you’re doing what you can to deal with it.

Okay, next comes the hard part. What you need to do is confront the person who’s causing the problem. This is easier said than done, and you need to keep several things in mind when you do this to avoid making the problem worse or getting pulled into a pointless argument.

Make sure you ask the person to talk in private. You can start with some very open-ended questions to try to get the person to open up about any issues they’re having. For example, you could say, “So, I’ve noticed that you seem stressed. Is everything okay?” What you may learn is that the person has a problem that is not related at all to work or to you. You can then kindly inform the person that the problem is affecting work and the people around him or her.

The problem may also be related to work. You may find, for example, that the person feels his or her opinion or work is not valued. You can then attempt to address those problems. A little compassion can go a long way toward making a difficult person feel less threatened or insecure.

But sometimes you can’t find a problem at the bottom of the behavior. Sometimes, that person simply has a bad attitude. In this case, you need to deal with the behaviors themselves.

What should you talk about? Talk about exactly what has crossed the line. Talk about specific behavior, not general character. That is, you can say things like “People feel rather frustrated when you interrupt them in mid-sentence,” but avoid things like “You’re so impatient and it bugs the hell out of everyone!” And focus on professional standards of behavior, not necessarily personal manners. We’re all different.

One way to prevent confrontation in a situation like this is to avoid sentences that begin with the word “you.” Think about a statement like this: “You never accept anyone’s ideas.” As soon as the person hears “you,” they will start to feel defensive. Instead, focus on the behavior or the people affected. You could say “in brainstorming sessions, we really need to listen to all the ideas before criticizing anything.”

Did you notice anything else in our bad example? Listen again. “You never accept anyone ideas.” That word “never” is definitely one to avoid. In fact, avoid all kinds of extreme words and exaggeration, words like “always,” or “completely,” or “worst.” These words will become points of argumentation themselves.

Remember, you can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do. And control is very important. Throughout your discussion, keep your head. You might feel quite emotional, but you shouldn’t let the situation become emotional.

Once you’ve talked with the person about the problems and their behavior, then it’s up to them to make a change. If the person can’t, you may have to have another discussion. And if all else fails, you may have to escalate the situation and involve a supervisor or mediator. But that should only happen after you’ve done your best to deal with the situation, and the person, yourself.

That’s all for today. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript.

So long. And see you again soon.


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