Working with Difficult People for Project Managers

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Let’s face it, conflict is a fact of life. Unfortunately, it’s also a fact of working with many people when you are a Project Manager in a medium or large size organization.

Avoiding people who cause conflict only works where you don’t have to work with them in the future. For the rest, it’s necessary to find a way to deal with them, preferably while keeping the conflict to a minimum.

So, who are these difficult people? They can be people from any department, any profession or any company that you work with. Some might have years of experience in the organization and specialize in a very specific field – which makes them indispensable for your project – but they thrive on conflict, and no matter what you do, they’ll be difficult.

They’re not all the same, nor are they difficult in the same ways. Some are always confrontational and argumentative, others interrupt you all the time, and there are those who criticize everything, regardless of the source. You can add to the list the ones who won’t make any compromises, don’t listen and don’t deliver their part of the scope as per expectations.

One thing these people all have in common is that they don’t communicate well with others. Nevertheless, being aware of who they are and how to deal with them can reduce the level of conflict and make your daily life easier.

Get Ready to Deal with Difficult People

The number one thing that you have to do when dealing with difficult people is to try and understand them as much as possible. Often, the difficult behaviour they are manifesting is only a symptom of a deeper underlying problem. They are taking their personal problems out on others, often without even realizing it. It doesn’t matter if those problems are temporary or long-term; they affect the person’s attitudes and actions. Ultimately, as a Project Manager you might not be able to change the root cause of the problem, so you need to figure out how to work with them the way they are. There are some key things you need to keep in mind when trying to deal with difficult people:

  • Remember that even difficult people have the right to their opinion, even if you think they’re wrong. If they are criticizing, that’s their opinion, nothing more.
  •  Don’t make it personal. It doesn’t matter how personal it may seem, it isn’t.
  • Don’t let their problems become yours. Even if you try and help them through it, it’s their problem, not yours.
  • Remember that you don’t have to respond. Often, any response will just escalate the situation. In those cases, your best response is to walk away.
  • It’s very easy to strike back at these people, reacting instead of acting. This will only escalate the problem. Watch out for your own ego.
  • Don’t forget that they aren’t necessarily right. People who are negative are wrong more than they are right. You don’t have to accept their negativity and criticism as true.
  • When you have to deal with difficult people, make sure that you keep yourself above the problem. Don’t allow yourself to get down to their level; keep yourself aloof, like the eagle, flying above it. This will help you to keep from getting emotional and keep the situation from escalating.
  • It always helps to go into sessions well prepared. Know what goals you want to accomplish in your session with them, and how you are going to deal with any problems that they cause. By being mentally prepared for their problems, with pre-planned reactions, you are much less likely to be drawn into their behavior. Rather, you can keep the moral high ground, controlling the situation and removing the problem they are causing.

Dealing with the Stress and Negativity

You want to be careful with how you handle the stress and any negative feelings that crop up from dealing with difficult people. We’ve already mentioned not reacting to them in the same manner in which they are acting, but what do you do with all that negativity and stress? It’s important to dissipate it in some way, so that it doesn’t become a cancer within you.

Burying the problem is not dealing with it; it’s just hiding it from yourself and everyone around you. Unfortunately, even though it’s hidden, it’s still there, eating away at you. It’s essential that you are proactive in dealing with this, not just passive. You need a methodology for elimination, such as:

  • Forgive them quickly – This is probably the most effective thing you can do. When you forgive them, it releases all the negativity and stress. You don’t have to do this to their face, just do it in private.
  • Don’t accept what they say – If you don’t accept it, it shouldn’t be able to affect you. On the other hand, if it is affecting you, don’t try and tell yourself that you haven’t accepted it.
  • Don’t rehearse it in your mind – This is very common, especially when we are offended. The mind wants to “replay the video” so that we can see it over and over again. All this does is to increase the offense.
  • Find a way to dissipate the stress – You need some activity to help get rid of stress. For some people, exercise does this. For others, some sort of recreational activity or personal hobby gets their mind off the problem and reduces the stress.
  • Put yourself in their shoes – It’s always easier to accept someone’s actions when we can see it form their point of view, through the lens of their problems.

Failure to properly deal with the stress that difficult people bring into your life can cause serious problems like high blood pressure, digestive problems or even heart attacks. When you eliminate the stress, you’re helping yourself overcome the problem; protecting your health and preparing yourself for the next day’s issues.

Keep Your Relationships Positive Even with Difficult People

You want to keep your relationship as positive as you can. While you can’t change their attitude, you can change yours. Even if they are negative, keep your responses positive. Ultimately, that can do more to change their attitude than anything else you can do. While they may still be negative with everyone else around them, they will respond to your  attitude by being more positive with you. This really works, and the effort you put into it will pay off !

One way that you can maintain a positive relationship is to make a point of thanking them for their collaboration if and when they deliver results. Do so in public if you can. Everyone likes to be thanked, even difficult people. It shows that you aren’t against them, even though you might have to be firm at times.

Have a Last Resort Plan B (and Make Sure They Know About It Too)

As a last resort, you can always calmly let them know that you know the escalation process within your organization (all organizations should have one). Be careful how you do this though, as you don’t want to make it sound like a “threat”. Instead, be positive, by saying that you don’t want to go that route, but would rather find a way to work together for everyone’s benefit.

Make the Most of the Situation

Finally, always take these challenges as opportunities to improve your people skills. What can you learn from dealing with that difficult situation? How can you better deal with it in the future? What can you change, to prevent escalation in other confrontations? Make the most of the situation and it will help you in the long run.

As you learn to deal with difficult people, it will actually make you a better leader. Great leaders are forged in the furnace of affliction, not born with natural leadership abilities. As you work with difficult people, you are honing your leadership skills, preparing yourself for bigger challenges and greater responsibilities.

How to Get Better in Dealing with Difficult People

To help you deal with difficult people, improve your interpersonal skills and at the same time earn some PDUs, we are providing a few online courses below:

 

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