6 Strategies for Working Alongside Difficult People

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“6 Strategies for Working Alongside Difficult People”

This Fascinating Adventure

Side view of a Blonde woman sitting at a table with her forehead resting on her hand and an annoyed expression on her face.

I work with a difficult person. Believe me, calling her “difficult” is kind. I could regale you with all the bizarre behavior that makes working with her especially difficult, but why bitch-bond? We are better than that. And besides, you know who I am talking about. You might be working with someone like her now. 

There have been jobs I’ve worked in where the team dynamics are beautiful. As I’ve mentioned before, I work in a profession that can be emotionally exhausting. Having a supportive team can make all the difference for longevity and stamina within a career riddled by burnout

As I am already combatting burnout, and trying to rein in my workaholic nature, I am choosing to eliminate some work commitments I currently have. There’s a real pill at one of my jobs, “Sandra”,  and I am finding it increasingly difficult to work with her. It would make sense to eliminate this work commitment first. The problem is: I actually like this job. Sort of. 

I Care About This Job: But I’ve Stopped

For someone who works mostly within a freelance economy, this is a dream job. The work I do at this particular entity as a part-time employee is meaningful and gives me a deep satisfaction. I am extremely good at my job and it pays well.

My current situation concerning one difficult person has allowed for thoughts like “this job isn’t worth it.” More frequently, even before my come to Jesus moment on being a workaholic, I’ve considered quitting. Which is a damn shame. Because sans this person, the job is perfect. 

The truth is, with my current level of resentment, this isn’t sustainable. While the external circumstances are challenging and seemingly unchangeable (Heaven knows I’ve tried), my internal state is my responsibility. 

I Control My Response

While not necessarily recommended for every situation, here are some ways I keep my sanity:

Bite My Tongue:

My ego bucks at this one, but it has been essential for me to not say everything I am thinking. When I am faced with a rough attitude or when “Sandra” oversteps her role, I weigh the importance of the specific situation as objectively as possible.

Approximately 90% of the time, it’s just not worth engaging with her. Friends, I’ve learned this the hard way. When I speak of “difficult people” I mean the kind of person who won’t listen to logic, or rationally discuss the issue at hand. Usually God-awful passive-aggressiveness comes into play, and I determine it’s game over at that point. I’m not showing up for the fight. 

With certain difficult people, a friendly discussion is out of the question. Especially when they sense disagreement at hand. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to argue with a co-worker. While some relationships with colleagues turn into friendships, this isn’t one of them. She is firmly in the camp of people who, beyond our working relationship, do not matter to me. 

I have the luxury of moderate-to-high autonomy within this job, so it’s fairly simple for me to let nastiness slide. Simple, but not easy. I remind myself, her attitude is not my problem. 

Count My Money

It’s a job that I get paid to do. I want and need the money, and remind myself if for nothing else, it’s why I am there. The paycheck. Now, there are times when no amount of money is worth dealing with especially unsavory characters. 

But if I can remind myself why I work, and for who I work (I’m Team This Fascinating Adventure all day!), it makes it easier to not let someone else dictate the status of my pocketbook. 

Hone-In on My Loved Ones

There are a number of reasons I work. However, the primary reason I work are my loved ones. I work to support and provide for my family. If a family member is in a jam, they call me. When my nephew needs school supplies, I buy them. There is almost nothing I wouldn’t do for my loved ones. 

As Brené Brown writes in Daring Greatly, “I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles.”

The list on your sheet of paper may consist of your family members or friends—whoever you care about, and who cares about you. If all of this world faded away and I was eking it out in a cave, it’d suck. But if I had the people on my list with me, I think I’d be ok. (P.S. No brainer, but “Sandra” isn’t on my list.)

This doesn’t mean I hate everyone else. It’s more like the opposite. I just don’t care. We all have a certain comfort level with how much emotional bandwidth we can allot to caring about and for people. It serves us to take inventory of this and know who we want to expend emotional energy on. 

Brené Brown goes on to say that when she receives criticism from someone, she asks herself, “Are they on my list?” If not, their opinion doesn’t matter.

Practice Self-Care Intentionally

Another thing I’ve learned the hard way, is not to make self-care an afterthought. On my version of Brené Brown’s list I mentioned above, I am on that damn list too. I am important. 

So when someone is making you feel unimportant, and this is something that can’t be controlled, control your response. You make your own self feel important and worthy. 

For me, this looks like hot baths and meditation. Working out and eating good foods. Pulling weeds in my garden. Laying outside on a picnic table and looking at the sky. When I’m at home in the evening with my partner, sometimes I pause, look over at him, and remind myself how good I’ve got it. 

Even at work, I step outside for a few moments and catch my breath. Look up at the birds, and look to all the people on the sidewalk to whom this problem means nothing. It helps to gain perspective on what is really important. And it’s not this work pseudo-drama. There’s a million things that can be done to take care of ourselves (here’s a few), and we are best served when this is a priority. 

Have Friends Outside of Work

I’ll be the first to admit, my personal and professional life blend quite a bit. Many of my friends are people I’ve met through various working opportunities, and they’ve made a mark on my life that can’t be erased. 

A few of my closest friends are people who I once worked with, and our friendship has evolved to something much more significant. We talk about our families and our goals, and have reached a point where we hardly talk about anything professionally related at all. 

Simultaneously, I have found it important to maintain friendships with people I do not work with. To have an identity that has nothing to do with the job I do. This has been priceless and provided balance in my life. 

When work becomes too much, I retreat to my family and friends. They remind me who I truly am deep down. I am not my job. 

Plan an Exit Strategy

This is not my forever job. Even just knowing that brings relief. The team I am on is a team of four people. It’s extremely difficult, especially on a small team, when one person is so unpleasant to work with. While my resentment began as being directed toward “Sandra”, it’s now directed at the entire job. 

Team dynamics are important, and I am not getting the support I want from this team. Don’t get me wrong, the other people are straight-up lovely! Because our professional community is so tight-knit, if I leave this job at some point, I am not fearful I will never see or work with them again. I’m extremely grateful for them. Without my other exceptional team members, I would’ve reached my “WTF” state a long time ago. 

Nevertheless, I control my response, and I acknowledge I would be happier elsewhere. Rather than giving away the responsibility of my happiness to someone else who isn’t as invested in Me as I am, I am the decision-maker here. And I’ve decided to plan my exit strategy.

Dates are not set in stone, but I have positioned myself financially to where I will be just fine if I give up this income. Relationships are so important within my field, and I have some very strong ones which will make any transition to other employment easy. 

Essentially, I’ve got my money right, and my opportunities right, and could leave tomorrow if I wanted to. Staying any longer is now my choice, which reduces any feelings of helplessness and frustration. This is just a passing phase in the adventure of life, much like anything else. 

Thankfully, the work and my other teammates are enjoyable. And when the bad outweighs the good, I have a plan to protect myself and leave. 

Choose Yourself First

Working with difficult people isn’t as easy as “ignoring them” and just watching your paychecks get deposited. What I’ve tried above isn’t perfect and won’t work for every situation. 

All we can do is our best. Even when we falter at being our best selves, we can pick ourselves up and try again. When I interact with the world, I genuinely try to Do No Harm. This includes to myself. Life is too short to let other people make me miserable. Part of my self-respect includes always choosing myself first. 

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