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Handling Difficult People at Work

Omkar Phatak
Some people are always around to make your life more difficult, especially at the workplace. Here are some tips on dealing with them, that will grant you freedom.
Most of our problems are neither technical, nor economic, but they are mostly people problems, caused by difficult people. Every one of us have come across numerous such people, in the work arena.

Handling Difficult People at Work, With Ease

To treat a patient afflicted with the disease of being difficult, one must know the root causes of that affliction. Only after an accurate diagnosis, can one recommend an effective treatment.
Here are some of the perceived symptoms of 'Difficultitis' and the rational, as well as irrational reasons behind the malady. The treatment is listed according to the cause. Recommended treatment procedures should be implemented at your own risk, as the author cannot guarantee 100% success with every patient, as some cases may simply be beyond salvage.

Making a Fuss of Anything and Everything

This is one problem, which is faced by many people, when their subordinates call up or come up to inquire every simple work-related thing or problem. They will make a fuss out of trifles.
They need spoon feeding or reassurance all the time, which is good for them, but it unnecessarily eats up your time. It may also be the reverse case, that you have a boss who calls up to ask things, that should be easily processed by his own cerebrum.
Cause: Many employers may encounter this problem while dealing with difficult employees. The cause may be a desperate or pathetic attempt to gain your attention, in case it is your subordinate. The reason may also be that they are genuinely confused or dumb.
Treatment: You could simply ask him/her to call you for queries, only in a specific time slot and only if the problem has gone beyond a specific threshold limit of difficulty, or an emergency.
In case it is a dumb subordinate, beyond salvation, make him a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list, with answers. If none of these work, ask him a simple question like: 'Why did I hire you, if I myself am solving problems delegated to you?' Or 'Why should I pay you, if I think for you?'.
If it's your boss then, well, you must bear with him, as he pays you to think for him. The fact that he comes to you for advice means, that he counts you among his trusted advisers, which is a good sign for future prospects.

Accidental Rudeness or Temporary Amnesia

You encounter people at office, who are often rude and inconsistent in their behavior. One day, you'll be their best friend and next day, they'll be downright ignorant of your very existence or will be rude to you.
Cause: These are patients, usually your superiors or colleagues, with an acute case of 'Difficultitis', who are also afflicted by other maladies like selfishness and a congenital inability to think about other people, unless they need them. They just need to use you for something and once that is done, they could conveniently forget your existence.
Treatment: These are severe cases that need strong medicine for cure. Staying away from these people, if possible, is the best policy, as sooner or later, they are going to pay a price for their disregard of other people. Stop acknowledging their existence.

Uninvited Condescension

This is a dosage, which subordinates often get from a boss, who has no idea whatsoever, about your work, but nevertheless considers his prime responsibility to feed you pearls of wisdom and work ethics, in a condescending manner.
Cause: He is a pompous nutcase, with an inflated idea about his own inherent self-worth. He does not want to earn respect but demands it automatically, by his default position of power.
Treatment: Once he begins to start his condescending speech, let your face be a picture of concentration. Then start humming your favorite song in your mind and nod once in a while, as if you are taking in every one of his words.
Once it's over, say 'Yes Sir' and run. This is one way of handling difficult people, whom you can't run from. At other times, when you see him around, disappear.

Delaying your Work, All the Time

This is a problem which subordinate employees face many times as their work is delayed without notice and is subject to the whims of a boss.
Cause: The moodiness and indifference of a superior.

: Keep pestering the person, mail him, leave notes on his desk, in case he is unavailable and stop not till it's gotten done. There is no other way of getting things done, other than dogged pursuit.

Stealing Credit for your Work

This is often done by immediate superiors, who may steal your ideas as their own, while assuring to give you due credit. These are two-faced, pathetic people who need to be exposed, for who they are. When it comes to doing work, it will be delegated to you, but credit will be attributed to him, thanks to his wiliness.
Cause: A paucity of original thinking, unwillingness to work hard and excellent manipulative abilities, with no self-respect.

: If he is stealing all your good ideas, then feed him a dud and convince him of its effectiveness. If he is dumb enough, which is mostly the case, he will fall on his face when he presents it as his own.
Subvert his superiority and approach your superior's superior, if things go out of hand. Pray that he is a better man.

Playing Office Politics

For some people, backstabbing you or stepping over you to get what they want, is second nature. These people are excellent at gossiping and subtly manipulating people. They specialize in sucking up to people who matter.
Cause: These people see other employees in office as puppets to be manipulated and as stepping stones to be trampled upon and risen higher. They are very sweet with you when they want you, but bitch about you elsewhere, if it's in their profit. These are the worst type.
Treatment: Avoiding and ignoring such people in office is the best thing to do. Do your job and be as straightforward in your dealings as possible. Don't trust this person at any cost and do not take any favors from him, at any cost. Do not talk about personal stuff when he is around in office. Ignoring them is again the best policy.
Howard Roark's answer, in the novel, Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, is something to be remembered. When the villain Toohey, asks him, 'What do you think of me?', he answers, 'I don't think of you. Period' . That's the policy. Do not give such manipulative people the consideration of thinking about them. Don't think of them.

Cubicle Stalking and Pestering

There are always the office stalkers, who are the toughest, when it comes to handling difficult people.
They will take advantage of your nicety and pester you all the time, in the office, to the point of stalking you. They may bore you like hell with their sorry state of affairs or their list of self achievements, for which they worked so hard.
At no point will real concern for you, peep into the conversation. These pompous bores just look for a person who will listen. Some may just keep staring at you all the time, for no reason. They are nut cases usually, who come to you, to get their ego stroked.
Cause: They are usually people with no life beyond the office, making a pathetic attempt at appearing cool and wooing you.
Treatment: Once your tolerance level or boredom has reached its limit, you will have to someday explicitly tell such people to 'Go Away' and make it clear that they are not welcome. If this doesn't work, then do your invisible act again and disappear as soon as he makes a move towards your cubicle.
All people are difficult because there is a reason and sometimes they are just victims of their irrational idiosyncrasies. Working with difficult people may make your life stressful at times, with unnecessary aggravation.
Remember that 'nobody can trouble you, unless you let them', at such times. The main ingredients of the perfect recipe for handling difficult people are patience and tact. Hope these recommended treatment procedures will help you out.