7 Encouraging Ways to Deal with Difficult Personalities

Topics: Business, Careers, Culture, Ideas, Inspiration, Leadership, Marketing, Media & Entertainment, Motivation, Perseverance, Sales, Success By: Jackie Ta
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Have you ever felt the pulse beating, face-flushing, word-sputtering frustration and bewilderment of having to deal with egotistical, belligerent, hardcore bully? What about the frustration of dealing with negative Ned or Nancy? People pleaser?  Bad, incompetent bosses?  We all have to deal with these types of personalities (some more than others, unfortunately), and at times, we try to avoid them like the plague. We would rather deal or work with those individuals who display the epitome of likeability, inestimable value, and admirable intelligence. The reality, however, is that this isn’t always the case. Instead, we have to deal with difficult personalities throughout life. We sometimes let these individuals get under our skin; and as a result, giving them too much power and control – further stroking their egos.

If you’re like me, and you come from (or believe in) a generation of dreamers and adventurers – always wanting to change the world for the better – you’d want to march to the beat of a different drummer. We all deal with these colorful personalities regardless of what generation we’re in – pre-Gen X, Gen X, Y, or Z. Although each generation has its own values and belief system, and approach things differently, we share the commonality that trying to change someone’s character is quite an impossible, frustrating task. We often find ourselves adjusting our own personality to accommodate others’ or die trying, or equally irksome, succumbing to them to maintain some sense of sanity or peace. We may personally try to avoid them all together, but we can’t do so in a work environment or customer service oriented profession.

In this article, I’ll share with you my take on how different personalities can be dealt with to bring forth a win-win situation and some methods that you can use to help you deal with adversity while bringing you inner peace. I’m sure some, if not all, of you have one time or another experienced similar situations. It’s how we approach the situation that makes a difference. Although this article primarily addresses personalities at work, the concept is the same regardless of whether the people you deal with are loved ones, in-laws, exes, customers, colleagues, and even people you interact once in your lifetime.  The personalities that you deal with can be in any environment – a retail store, a team sport, a personal gathering, a spectator event, etc. Let examine the below scenario in a work setting and determine how best to approach these difficult personalities.

Scenario: You’re working on a team project to deliver a state-of-the-art mobile app for a customer, Jane’s Designs, who’s looking for an interactive agency that will take her retail business to the next level. Your product manager, John, displays all traits of a hardcore bully. He’s downright hostile and intimidating. He always has to be right and like an angry bull, he’ll charge at you if you challenge or cross him. Your project manager, Paul, is a people pleaser. He consistently over-commits himself and the team because he can’t say “No” and he at times agrees with everyone and everything. Another team member, Mike, has a passive aggressive personality and likes to take potshots and use sarcasm and underhanded tactics to undercut authority.  Your engineer, Negative Nancy, sees the downside to every issue and thinks her way is the only right way. Your external team member, Jean from Jane’s Designs, has baby-like traits, complaining, whining, and acting as if no one’s listening to her.  Jane, your customer, thinks she knows what she wants, dictates the design, and expects the delivered product to meet her expectations. Your development team wants to design and develop a solution that adheres to industry’s best practices in usability, functionality, etc., but struggle when the design is dictated to them, that can potentially result in a poorly designed user interface and a solution that fails to meet the customer’s needs even if the solution was exactly developed as she wanted. And, you, whatever your role is on the team, are the realistic, practical one, putting on many hats to keep the project progressing and making sure that everyone is marching to the mutual goal without missing a beat. You have a tough task ahead of you. So, how do you deal with all these types of personality without sacrificing the product you’re delivering, delivering a wrong product, and damaging your brand image?

  1. Don’t take it personally. Everyone, understandably, can be under a lot of stress. Yes, at times, they take it out on you with their mean-spiritedness or attitude. Resist the urge to stoop to their level. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge their difficult personalities and respond accordingly to each with openness and sound judgment. Let hardcore John blows off steam with his expression of anger and frustration. Then, get control of the situation by stating your position clearly without being confrontational. Turn passive aggressive Mike’s attention by saying something like, “Let focus on the issues.” This way you’re turning the focus from Mike’s shenanigans back to the issues and away from the personalities involved.
  2. Stay positive, but realistic. When dealing with negative Nancy and whining Jean, stick with the facts and refuse to argue with them. Dismiss the negatives logically, directing them to more positive aspects of the situation. When dealing with people pleaser Paul, try helping him see the reality of the situation with facts. When dealing with customers like Jan, help them understand that you’re developing the best solution for their needs even if it means that it goes against their own inclinations. Consider using prototypes as proof of concept. Get more than just one person’s opinion – get several. Don’t let someone like hardcore product manager dictate solutions that are not viable. When you’re obtaining several opinions on your proposed solution, issues, or impediments, you’re creating a collaborative, conducive environment.
  3. Write or state a self-affirmation.  We may not be able to control or change other people’s thoughts, but we certainly can control our own. We frequently talk to ourselves out loud and in our minds throughout the day. Some thoughts and inner dialogues are positive and motivating; others are filled with negative, de-motivating ideas. When you find yourself thinking of negative thoughts as a result of an interaction with another person, place, or thing, take control of these negatives by filling your head with positive ideas as if they are already true. Think in term of the present and state to yourself something like: “I am happy”, “I am successful”, “I am a survivor”, etc. or see yourself in your mind as the positive scene plays out. This may sound silly at first but as you make this a part of your daily routine, you’ll discover that positive thoughts can and do replace those unintentional negative thoughts and will give you a clearer perspective that you may otherwise not see.  Athletes do self-affirmations all the time, helping them picture in their mind winning a game, for example. Go a step further and find a space or place where you can sit still and meditate with your self-affirmation or any question or answer you may inquire about.

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  4. Meditate. Buddhism believes in the power of meditation: “Become Buddha – Sit still and listen to your inner wisdom.” Think of this as empowering yourself to know that there’s this amazing, positive part of you that dwells within, and all you need to do is to sit still. Regardless of your religion or religious affiliation, you can benefit from meditation.  You can change the way you feel and think about any situation while attaining inner peace within yourself and the world in a positive and spiritual way.  Meditation, done on a daily basis, is one of the best methods to bring forth transformation, transforming yourself, your thoughts, recognizing the negative thoughts, changing them into positive thoughts, and listening to your inner wisdom.  You cannot control or eradicate adversity in life nor control other people’s personalities, but you can master the way you respond through daily meditation. Practicing stillness allows you to be the peaceful beacon in the eye of the storm of any adversity.
  5. De-stress yourself.  Everyone has stress in their lives. It’s unavoidable. It’s life. When you experience an emotionally charged situation or feel tired and stressed out, stop, relax, and refocus. Don’t go automatically into a reactive mode.  Think of yourself and your well-being as well as others that you engage with. Temporarily remove yourself from the situation or person that’s the source of the stress, and take a break. Go for a walk or a run. Exercise. Do something to get your mind off the stressor.  Or, better yet, meditate. You’ll be able to come back with a clearer head and sound judgment.
  6. Learn from thought and innovative leaders. Shadow leaders and learn from them. One of Steve Jobs’ best quotable quotes (in a 60 Minutes interview, 2008) may help with dealing with negative folks if you think and approach your situations as such: “My model for business is the Beatles. They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of parts.” For those hardcore bullies, negative Nancy (or Ned), and passive aggressive persons, give them a chance to have their say, don’t discredit them (doing so will fuel their attitude), but take the control away from them immediately by putting a stop to their shenanigans and voicing your own opinions. During his Stanford commencement address, 2005, Jobs advised the graduating class that their time is limited so they shouldn’t waste it living someone else’s life: “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
  7. Act in the best interest of everyone. Everyone can act and behave like thriving leaders to create a thriving shadow of leadership for all. Take for instance, how was US Airways flight 1549 Captain Chesley Sullenberger, on January 15, 2009, pulled off a miraculous, safe (emergency) landing in the Hudson River without the loss of a single life (150 passengers, 3 flight attendants, 2 pilots)? The captain was calm, poised, and totally focused even under extreme conditions. From the moment he instructed his crew to “brace for impact”, they instantly became an aligned team with a mutual, singular focus of saving passengers’ lives, despite the personal risks to themselves. They didn’t think of themselves in those moments; they all acted in the best interest of everyone. What would have happened if they had a fearful, indecisive captain, a passive aggressive crew, or a negative attendant – all of whom are spending valuable time blaming the birds, the weather, and the aircraft? What would happened if the crew was not in alignment, take accountability, and act with a clear purpose and direction? Chaos! Passengers would not have been able to remain calm. Quick, smart decisions would not have been made. The evacuation and rescue of all passengers would not have been calm and orderly. Lives most likely would have been lost. When you’re presented with any one situation, act responsibly. When you act responsibly, you encourage others to follow your lead. Egos have no place in our world, especially when the stakes are high. Be the “Miracle on the Hudson”.

Unless you’re blessed with a Labrador Retriever’s temperament or interacting with individuals with similar traits, dealing with difficult people take patience and understanding, which can be a challenge when they make it tough to remain calm in face of adversity. You may not have a hallmark of a special breed.  Be a Labrador and approach your situation with gentle ways, intelligence, and adaptability. A kindly, outgoing, tractable, and non-aggressive nature will soften people’s demeanor. Shadow thriving leaders who have been through similar situations and came out ahead.  How do you deal with difficult people in your lives? Share your experience and wisdoms with our readers.

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