A wise man (read: fictional movie character) once said that life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The same can be said for workplaces.
You research, interview, ask questions about culture and the team you’ll be in, but until you’re in the thick of it nothing is really transparent. And while ideally, you will be surrounded by the kind of people who know when to have a meeting and when to just email instead, the likelihood is at some time, you will have to deal with straight up idiots. And knowing how to deal with difficult people at work is a great skill to have under your belt.
How to deal with difficult people at work
It’s easy to assume the higher up the ranks you climb the fewer idiots you will encounter. It’s also erroneous. Sometimes the biggest idiots end up in the best-paid chairs, because rather than over-thinking every step along the way, idiots climb their way up the ladder with callous and convincing disregard for introspection. And sometimes, the moronic behaviour comes straight from the top (yep, your boss).
Sometimes the biggest idiots end up in the best-paid chairs.
According to The Guardian, ‘The sad reality is that sometimes you come across individuals at work who are psychopathic in their behaviour. Utterly ruthless, these individuals are incredibly resilient, fearless and not constrained by ethics or a moral code. Beware if they have you in their sights, because they are smart, manipulative, very plausible and have no compunction about causing damage.’
While you can’t expect to get on with everyone you work with, there are some mitigation strategies that make work-life more workable and will help maximise your time, efforts and outcomes.
Assess the situation – is the difficult person worth worrying about?
First, assess the nature and severity of the idiocy you’re dealing with. Some kinds of silly behaviour don’t warrant your energy. Work out whether the situation is critical to the success of your career plan, prospects or day-to-day operation of the office. If not, forget about it and stick some headphones in.
If it’s harmless, but you think it has the capacity to escalate into bullying, sexual harassment or other ‘definitely-not-ok’ behaviour, start taking notes, literally. It’s easy to think you’ll have magical powers of recall, but if you have to take formal action, a diary helps. In the interim, build an arsenal of dazzlingly witty shutdowns that will, at minimum, keep you entertained.
Shutdowns for people you dislike at work who say weird s***
Here are a few we’ve used in the past:
- If you’re called a name by an idiot: ‘Only my friends are permitted to use that name with me’.
- If they’ve really stepped over a line: ‘Everyone is allowed to take it a bit too far, but I think you’re abusing that privilege right now’.
- If they take credit for your idea: ‘Thank you for noticing how hard I’ve been working on that and taking the time to explain it to everyone again’.
- General idiocy: ‘If ignorance is bliss, surely you are on cloud nine’.
- Channel Dwight from The Office (US) and dryly suggest ‘there are too many people on this planet…we need a new plague’.
- Non-verbal communication can go further than words: think of the perfect ‘resting bitch face’; or simple eye roll.
Getting along with coworkers who dislike you
If the idiotic behaviour is coming from someone on your team, try to see things from where they stand. Hoping to become buddies is probably a bit much, but if you can walk a mile in their shoes and find some common ground, your grievances might dissolve. Meanwhile, focus your energy and relationships on kicking your own KPIs and building bonds with people who inspire you.
Managing difficult people is a great skill to master, so see this as an opportunity to exercise that muscle.
Dealing with a difficult boss
If the idiot is your boss, things become a bit trickier. Knowing what makes them tick is critical. Treat it as an opportunity to become a master in relationship management with them and the team around them. Especially if that team includes you.
Work remotely. This is not a joke. Increasingly, workplaces have flexible policies around when and where you can work. Use them. Work from a cafe, work from home, work from the gym (I used to do this all the time: they had wifi and made great fries); work from Costa Rica if you can. Apart from avoiding halfwits, you’ll get more done because you’re not being interrupted for morning tea birthday cake/your boss chewing your ear off at your desk.
Life is too short to work with people you don’t get along with
It’s easy to make light of stupid behaviour in the office and try to put it to one side and just get on with your job. Ultimately, your own success in your role, your career progression and reputation rest partly with the team around you, so if you feel constantly dragged down by the people around you, consider making a change.
Have you come up against a difficult co-worker before? Perhaps you don’t get along with your boss? How did you manage the situation? Drop us a line in the comments section below. Or come over to The Squad Facebook Group and hear how others have dealt with difficult people at work.
How to deal with difficult people at work when you’re about to lose it