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Work Successfully with Difficult People

Work Successfully with Difficult People

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.

Decide whether or not to stay in your current job. If you choose to stay, know why you’re choosing that, and also know your limits and set up boundaries accordingly. Think about how you might alleviate some of the tension (such as taking a sabbatical or changing positions within the same company). If you choose to leave, leave with dignity and express gratitude for the experiences you’ve had there.

Refuse to define yourself by what others say or do to you. Your worth isn’t based on other people’s reactions to you; it’s based on the reality that God loves you completely and unconditionally. Don’t allow difficult people to control your confidence. Instead, ask God to help you see yourself as He sees you.

Cope well with stress in your workplace. Even though stress can make you feel out of control, the fact is that you do have the power to do something about your stress. Identify what situations, events, or people trigger stress in you while you’re working. Then plan specific steps to take to eliminate as much stress as you can and cope with what remains by relying on God’s guidance to deal with it. Invest in your life outside of work so you’ll have healthy relationships with friends and family to turn to after work, which will reduce your stress levels. Don’t let your job overtake other areas of your life; regularly ask God to help you keep each area of your life in the proper balance, centered around Him.

Manage your emotions well. Your emotions have only the amount of strength that you give them. Don’t let you emotions guide you; let God guide you. God will empower you to deal successfully with even the most emotionally troubling circumstances at work when you place your trust in Him rather than in your emotions.

Give and receive forgiveness. Rely on God to help you through the process of forgiving the people you work with who have hurt or offended you. Ask people who you have hurt or offended to forgive you for your mistakes.

Communicate wisely with difficult people. Combine careful words with kind actions as often as possible when communicating with difficult people at work. Keep in mind that they may misinterpret your words, but they can clearly read your body language. Sandwich comments about a negative behavior that they need to change between positive comments to make it easier for them to listen to you.

Handle bias against you carefully. Deal with prejudice against you in the workplace quietly, without rancor. Document interactions that show bias and remain calm as you go through proper channels (such as human resources) to deal with it.

Learn how to work with people of different generations. Some of the problems you experience getting along well with others may be due to generational differences. Focus on what you can learn from people of another generation, and be willing to help them learn from your perspective.

Adapted from Working Successfully with Screwed-Up People, copyright 2012 by Elizabeth B. Brown. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group,

Elizabeth B. Brown is a teacher, a speaker, and the author of the popular Living Successfully with Screwed-Up People and the helpful Surviving the Loss of a Child. She and her husband live in Tennessee.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a contributing writer and the editor of’s site on angels and miracles ( Contact Whitney at: to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.

Publication date: April 6, 2012