Work Successfully with Difficult People
- Friday, April 06, 2012
Editor's note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Elizabeth B. Brown's new book, Working Successfully with Screwed-Up People (Revell, 2012).
People who don’t really listen to what others have to say, people who won’t cooperate with others, people who offend others with their rude or mean-spirited words and actions … unfortunately, every workplace in this fallen world is full of people who are messed up. Factor in the personality clashes that occur on the job, and it’s easy to see why many people struggle with how to get along with the people around them at work.
But with God’s help, it is possible to work successfully with difficult coworkers, customers, or supervisors. Here’s how:
Realize that just one person – you – can change a relationship for the better. You don’t have to wait for difficult people to change in order to change your relationships with them. In fact, often, difficult people simply don’t change. But God has given you the power to choose to be unflappable, imperturbable, and unflustered by difficult people. Whenever you make that choice, you improve the dynamic of your relationships.
Ask God to give you His perspective on difficult situations with people at work. Pray about each difficult situation you’re facing with each difficult person at work. Honestly consider how much of the problem is due to other people, and how much your own behavior (even your reactions to others) has contributed to the problem. Ask God to give you the wisdom you need to deal with each situation as you should.
Defuse tension in conversations with difficult people. Rather than reacting negatively to negative comments that difficult people make to you on the job, decide to respond positively despite their negativity. Defuse the emotional tension by either politely laughing off their comments or making a polite, non-committal statement that you’ve prepared for such situations (like “Interesting. I’ll consider that.”).
Appreciate and respect the temperament differences between you and others at work. You and each of the people you work with has been hardwired differently by God. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to change other people’s personalities. Instead, realize that each of you can contribute in unique ways to achieving workplace goals, while expanding each other’s perspective on your work. Don’t view the temperament differences between you and the people you work with as personal challenges. Instead, figure out how to use those differences strategically to accomplish more together than you could separately.
Choose new behavior around difficult people to inspire them to change their own behavior. While people’s temperaments never change, their behavior can and does change. If you change the way you react to difficult people’s behavior so that they can no longer get what they want by behaving the way they have in the past, you force them to behave differently around you to accomplish their goals.
Communicate to understand each other better. Ask the people you’re having trouble getting along with to meet with you to talk about contentious issues between you, with your mutual goal to understand each other’s perspective better (rather than to debate). Ask respectful questions and listen carefully. Seek agreement, or at least compromise.
Consider whether or not your personality fits your company’s culture. Every company culture has distinctive qualities that meld well with certain people’s personalities and not with others. Ask God to help you discern whether or not your own personality fits well into your current workplace. Keep in mind that you should enjoy your job and see that you’re making positive contributions there.
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