Dont Let Difficult People Derail Your Career

Unless you are among the luckiest people in the world, or you are totally free of all relationships in the real world, you have to cope with difficult people in the course of your work.

Difficult people are everywhere. Some are habitually late for work. Customers are often rude. Co-workers can be abusive and uncooperative as they guard their turf. Others may goof off leaving you to pick up the slack. There are bosses who consistently make unreasonable demands and never have a kind word to say.

"Don't waste your time searching for Utopia where there are no difficult people. The wise, truly ambitious careerist, spends his or her time figuring out how to manage these relationships so that they don't become roadblocks to personal progress and success for the organization," says Ramon Greenwood, senior career counselor at Common Sense At Work.


In his book, Coping With Difficult People, Dr. Robert M. Bramson names seven basic patterns of difficult behavior:

1. Hostile-Aggressive: The bullies, walking time bombs, who throw tantrums and try to "muscle" their way through.

2. Complainers: They gripe incessantly, but never try to make things better.

3. Silent and Unresponsive: They only answer, "yeah," "nope," or just grunt and stare.

4. Super-Agreeables: Very likable, outgoing people who will agree to anything, but rarely produce what they promise.

5. Negativists: For them, "It won't work, it's impossible." They are always complaining; always ready to criticize everything about the job; always gossiping.

6. Know-It-All Experts: These are superior types who want you to know how smart they are and to realize how incompetent you are.

7. Indecisives: They wait for someone else to make the decisions; if they do have to decide, they want to wait until everything is perfect. If things go wrong, someone else is at fault.


Here are 10 common sense suggestions that should help in dealing with these difficult types.

1. Recognize you are not "just being negative and difficult" yourself when you acknowledge the reality that the world is brim full of difficult people.

2. Keep your eyes on your personal goals. Don't let hard-to-get-along-with people become a personal issue. Put them in the proper perspective. They are not your personal problem unless they impede your progress.

3. You don't have to like a person to get along with him or her. Working relationships are not like marriages. They are transient connections in the process of reaching your objective.

4. Recognize you can be difficult, too.

5. Try to understand why difficult people are difficult. Are they always hard to get along with, or just on those "bad days" everyone, including you, has?

Could it be they are just different? Understand that what may be seen as normal behavior by some, could be outrageous in another's view. Salesmen often find accountants too difficult when they are finicky about numbers. On the other hand, CPA's may find salesmen, with their aggressive personalities and "big picture" views, hard to get along with.

6. Be big enough to accommodate with the difficult person, up to a point, so long as they don't stymie you. Let the difficult person run his course.

7. When you do have to butt heads, be firm. Don't argue. Don't get personal. State your case and move on. Be ready to let the difficult person back off the limb he has gone out on.

8. Try to ignore the person and the situation, especially if you are dealing with a certifiable "basket case." Maintain as much distance ? physically, organizationally and emotionally ? as possible between yourself and the source of difficulty.

9. However, try as you might, there may come a time when it makes common sense to recognize that some relationships are too difficult to live with. Go to your boss, explain the situation and ask him to resolve it by moving you to another position away from the trouble-maker or by correcting or removing that person. Keep in mind this can backfire unless you are clearly in the right.

Go to your boss, explain the situation and ask him to resolve it by moving you to another position away from the trouble-maker or by correcting or removing that person. Keep in mind this can backfire unless you are clearly in the right.

10. Finally, if you have made your best effort along the lines discussed here and the difficulty still exists and it is hurting your personal life and career, you have but one choice. Learn to live with it, or leave for another position.

Keep in mind, however, there will be difficult people wherever you go. You'll have to deal with them or surrender.

Ramon Greenwood is former senior vice president of American Express; a professional director for various businesses; a consultant; a published author of career related books and a syndicated column. Senior career counselor for

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