marisa morby

You’re Full of Crap... Dealing With Difficult People

You’ve put it off as long as you could. You’ve avoided their office, ignored their phone calls, and dodged their emails like a highly skilled ninja.

Hell, one day last week you knowingly stared at a wall, coffee in hand, just to avoid eye contact when they came into the break room. You have no shame.

But nothing can last forever.

Today is the day of reckoning. They’ve caught you unawares at your desk. They’re both sneaky and annoying. Precisely one of the reasons you two don’t get along. But, like it or not, you’re being thrust into this conversation.

And let’s be honest, it’s stuff you really do need to discuss. After all, you are both responsible for the success of this project. But how do deal with difficult people as quickly, and painlessly, as possible?

1. Set Expectations

Going into any meeting without setting expectations is dangerous. But it’s both dangerous and irritating when you’re prolonging a conversation that you don’t want to have.

Make sure you have a clear idea of where this conversation is headed.

What is the end goal of the discussion?

Keep all discussion as close to the main goal as possible, and it should make it much easier and much faster.

2. Maintain Boundaries

When we’re in a discussion we don’t want to have, or forced to talk to someone we’d rather avoid, we often feel defensive. Why is this person taking up all my time? Why won’t they leave me alone?

Stating and maintaining your boundaries puts you in control of your portion of the conversation. Decide at the beginning of your talk:

How long can you meet for? Are there any topics that are off limits? (Hint: if the topic doesn’t involve the end goal, it’s off limits.)

3. Limit Interaction

Keep your conversation short, cordial, and kind. That way it will be over faster. It’s like ripping off a bandaid.

Answer as many questions and solve the issues that you can all in one go. Make sure and ask if you’ve answered the question clearly to make sure that you’re not on the hook to follow up later with the exact same answer you just gave.

4. Demand and Give Respect

Often, when we don’t like someone, we feel as though they don’t respect us. We may not identify that as the problem. Instead, we’ll say, “Oh, James is such an ass. He always talks over me in meetings.” Then you think that the reason you dislike James is because he interrupts you.

But the real reason is that the interruption makes you feel like James doesn’t respect you or your thoughts. And since James doesn’t show you respect, you don’t like him.

But, you do have some control over that. You can demand respect by refusing to interact when James is disrespectful. When he starts to interrupt, you can say:

I know that you have something else to say about this, but please let me finish my thought before you jump in with yours.

If it doesn’t work, end the meeting. You aren’t obligated to stay in a conversation with someone who is only there to hear himself speak.

Working in HR, I would always get the same complaint if there was a big disagreement between two coworkers:

But I don’t like her!

What is this? Third grade? I don’t give a shit if you don’t like her. Your manager doesn’t give a shit if you don’t like her. You both have jobs to do.

You don’t have to like each other. You do have to work together, and treat each other with respect.

Think back to the issue with James. You probably don’t care if he likes you. You just want to be able to finish your sentence before he starts talking.

5. Be Honest

Telling the truth is always the best course, even when what we have to say isn’t necessarily pleasant to discuss. Trying to cover up a bad situation by stretching the truth almost always backfires.

It’s hard to be honest with people that we find difficult to talk to. We are afraid they’ll be mean, won’t listen, or will blow the whole issue out of proportion.

But, if you’re going to have to continue interacting with this person for a long time — you know, like for your job — it’s best to lay the groundwork in honesty.

When they ask you if they made a mistake, be honest. When they want to know if they can do something better, be honest. When they need to get off their butt and get their work done, be honest.

6. Be Kind

But even when you’re being honest, don’t be a dick about it. Don’t worry about being nice; worry about being kind.

Kindness is telling someone the truth about their bad attitude even though it’s hard to hear. Being nice is saying that everything is fine when it’s not.

Kindness comes from a place of wanting to help the person improve, even if they don’t like you. Being nice is only self-serving (and ultimately damaging to everyone). Being nice means you care more about people liking you than giving feedback that might not be well received.

Perfection Not Required

It’s rare that we have a job where we never have to deal with a co-worker, client, or boss that we don’t really get along with.

Learning to handle these situations and people we don’t like makes us better communicators, and more patient people.

So, it’s not all bad. If you can learn to control the situation, and set the correct foundation for the conversation, meetings can go quickly and smoothly. You may not become BFF’s, but being able to stay in the same room and talk is definitely a start.

What to Read Next