Leading Blog


How to Get Along with Difficult People

Getting Along with Difficult People

LEADERSHIP is all about relationships—even difficult ones. It would be great if we got along with everyone, but not everyone we encounter makes that easy. At one time or another, we all run into difficult people. Sometimes they are just difficult, and sometimes we make them that way.

Amy Gallo shares insights and approaches for dealing with the difficult people in your life in Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People). In this excellent reseource, she offers research-based advice to help us not just to navigate the situations made difficult by people in our lives but to transform them into positive, constructive relationships. All relationships can change over time, even the good ones. And most can be transformed for the better if we are willing to put in the time and effort.

The general lack of empathy we see today only complicates this situation. It is important to reframe the difficult situation to see it from the other person’s point of view. In this key insight, Gallo says when faced with a difficult person, “You must create the necessary space to choose a response that will result in growth instead of conflict.”

Gallo covers in detail eight types of difficult people we might encounter. And some people display more than one. She provides helpful dos and don’ts for dealing with each type.

The Insecure Boss – “I’m great at my job … right?”

We all have times when we wonder if coworkers think we’re smart, if we have what it takes to nail a presentation, if we said something wrong in a meeting, or if strangers are judging the way we dress or look. While feeling insecure at times is natural, problematic behaviors include micromanaging, unfairly criticizing others, or constantly seeking reassurance when people attempt to conceal or compensate for their self-doubt.

The Pessimist – “This will never work.”

There are a lot of reasons that pessimists see the world the way they do, and gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them tick can help. For instance, defensive pessimists—those with a negative outlook who feel they can do something about it—can be helpful. Their worry enables them to take preventative steps. It’s easy to get dragged into a pessimistic colleague’s outlook. You may become demoralized, worry about negative consequences more than ususal, or start to feel like your actions won’t make a difference at work.

The Victim – “Why does this always happen to me.”

People who think of themselves as victims share several key traits with pessimists, but they believe other people or circumstances are at fault for the disappointing or distressing outcomes. Victims are often consumed by who is to blame, which never happens to be them.

The Passive-Aggressive Peer – “Fine. Whatever.”

Gabrielle Adams, a professor at the University of Virginia who studies interpersonal conflict at work, defines passive aggression as not being forthcoming about what you’re truly thinking and using indirect methods to express your thoughts and feelings. Often it’s driven by the fear of failure or rejection, s desire to avoid conflict, or a drive to gain power.

The Know-It-All – “Well, actually …”

Unfortunately, this archetype has likely persisted, not just in workplaces but in society, because we often reward overconfidence. If people who were humble and admitted that they didn’t always have the answers regularly rose to power, perhaps fewer of us would have stories to tell about know-it-alls in our lives. But we love confidence—in ourselves and in others.

The Tormentor – “I suffered, and you should too.”

A “tormentor” is a senior person (sometimes your boss and sometimes not) who has earned their way to the top, typically making sacrifices along the way, and then mistreats others below them. They appear motivated by the idea that because they suffered, you should too.

The Biased Coworker – “Why are you so sensitive?”

Prejudice can be expressed in explicit and implicit ways. Deciding if, when, and how to confront discrimination is complex, especially because you may fear that you’ll be penalized for how you handle it. However, the responsibility for addressing bias shouldn’t fall to those who are on the receiving end, and delivering feedback can sometimes be the right thing to do.

The Political Operator – “If you aren’t moving up, you’re falling behind.”

Everyone must engage in office politics to some degree. We need to advocate for our ideas and our accomplishments to secure support and funding. However, it’s different if your colleague is fixated on getting ahead and has a take-no-prisoners approach.

She offers nine principles for getting along with anyone, and for me, this is the essential section of the book.

Principle 1: Focus on what you can control

People change if they want to change, so focus on what you could do differently. Gallo writes, “I’ve been in many situations where I thought, If I can just explain this to the other person, surely, they’ll understand. We’ve all fantasized about saying or doing the perfect thing that forces a rival to see the light, to realize the error of their ways and vow to completely reform.” It is a fantasy. She adds a thought from Adam Grant, “All I can do is try to understand their thinking and ask if they’re open to some rethinking. The rest is up to them.”

If your strategy for getting along with another person depends on them changing, good luck with that.

Principle 2: Your perspective is just one perspective

It is not realistic to expect that you will see eye-to-eye on everything with others. “Naïve realism is the tendency to believe that we’re seeing the world around us objectively, and if someone doesn’t see it the same way, they’re uninformed, irrational, or biased.” Then there is the fundamental attribution error that assumes a person’s behavior is a result of their personality rather than the situation they find themselves in. As a result, we tend to make assumptions about others that are not true, and reaching an agreement on the “facts” is highly unlikely. My view is just that—my view.

Gallo recommends, “Instead of rehashing the past—a tactic that usually leads to nothing but hard feelings and deadlock—try to focus on what should happen going forward.”

Principle 3: Be aware of your biases

Our interactions are shaped by our biases. “Even our definition of ‘difficult’ behavior can be shaped by the prejudices that we carry into the workplace.” Know your biases, so you can monitor them more closely.

Principle 4: Don’t make it “me against them”

“If it is ‘me against you,’ the situation becomes polarizing. There’s someone who’s being difficult and someone who isn’t, someone who is right and someone who is wrong.” To move past this thinking, “Imagine that there are three entities in the situation: you, your colleague, and the dynamic between you.” In this way, you can separate the people from the problem.

Principle 5: Rely on empathy to see things differently

“We often perceive slights to be worse than they intended to be.” We make ourselves the victim. We all “make erroneous attributions about each other’s intent to do harm, how much harm was caused, how severe the issue is, how guilty the other person feels, etc.” This is not only unfair, “But it nudges you toward wallowing, revenge, or other unproductive responses rather than getting along.” Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. See the situation from the other person’s perspective.

Principle 6: Know your goal

When addressing a difficult situation, know what you want. “Identifying your goal will help you avoid getting pulled into any drama and stay focused on constructive tactics.”

While you may say your goal is to get along, your hidden agenda—payback for example—will “color your interactions, causing you to use language or a tone that is excessively critical or condescending, compromising your ability to achieve your stated goal.”

Principle 7: Avoid gossip, mostly

Notwithstanding studies that indicate, on a positive note, that gossip may keep people from behaving selfishly or badly because they don’t want others talking badly about them, I believe gossip should be avoided at all costs. Gossip divides, diminishes others’ ability to change, infects others with your biases and interpretations, and can destroy your ability to heal a relationship. Gossip is not a good basis for building and maintaining relationships.

Principle 8: Experiment to find what works

There isn’t one right answer. Improving a relationship will “feel far more manageable if you start coming up with two or three ideas you want to test out. Often, small actions can have a big impact.”

“Keep refreshing the approaches you try and be willing to abandon ones that aren’t producing results.

Principle 9: Be—and stay—curious

In any relationship problem, “it’s easy to tell yourself, ‘This is the way it’s always going to be’ or ‘Why should l expect them to change?’ or ‘We just don’t get along.’ I won’t tell you that it is going to be fun or even pleasant to do what you need to do to salvage a troubled relationship, but complacency and pessimism will get you nowhere. Instead, adopt a curious mindset.”

Gallo advises, “Assume you have something to learn and believe that the negative dynamic can turn around.” Approach difficult relationships with a growth mindset.

* * *

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter for additional leadership and personal development ideas.

* * *


Explore More

Have a Nice Conflict Conflict Without Casualties

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:00 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Human Resources , Personal Development



Books to Read

Best Books of 2022


Leadership Books
How to Do Your Start-Up Right

Explore More

Leadership Books
Grow Your Leadership Skills

Leadership Minute
Leadership Minute

Leadership Classics
Classic Leadership Books

Get the LEAD:OLOGY Newsletter delivered to your inbox.    
Follow us on: Twitter Facebook LinkedIn Instagram

© 2023 LeadershipNow™

All materials contained in https://www.LeadershipNow.com are protected by copyright and trademark laws and may not be used for any purpose whatsoever other than private, non-commercial viewing purposes. Derivative works and other unauthorized copying or use of stills, video footage, text or graphics is expressly prohibited. The Amazon links on this page are affiliate links. If you click through and purchase, we will receive a small commission on the sale. This link is provided for your convenience and importantly, help to support our work here. We appreciate your use of these links.