In today’s topic, we’re going to discuss, How to Stay Sane When Dealing with Difficult People on The Job?
I’m 40 years old. I’ve been working in the corporate world ever since I was 18. When I say working, I’m not talking about an internship. I don’t come from a rich family. I had to pay for college so working for free was not an option. Plus, I never understood why anyone would do that. You should get paid if you work. Anyway, I shared that information because I wanted to let you know that I’ve been working for a while.
I tend to be the person people go to when they want personal or career advice. Mainly, because they know I’m going, to be honest. If they are wrong I’ll tell ‘em they’re wrong. If they’re right, they know I’ll be the first one to tell them it’s not you, it’s them.
I had a conversation that prompted me to create this episode. A friend was telling me a story about a horrible boss situation. When they were telling me their story, I felt myself getting upset and I wasn’t even involved! The main reason why I got upset is because I knew what it felt like to be in their shoes. I was so naive when I started working in the corporate world.
I literally thought if you worked hard, you could make it to the top of the corporate ladder. I thought it was normal when I received thank yous and more responsibility instead of additional pay. I thought whenever someone smiled at me they were my friend and had my best interest at heart. I actually believed people when they said, “I was just joking,” when they said something hurtful towards me even when I knew deep down that they were being rude and just downright mean.
I’m sure everyone can resonate with some or all of everything I just said, right? Some of you may even be laughing because well you know better, right? As I’ve grown older, I can reflect on these experiences and laugh, but not while I was going through them. When I was going through these experiences, I was hurt, sad, frustrated, confused, and angry.
Being stuck in these types of experiences was even more frustrating when the person was my boss. I take pride and ownership in my work. If my name is going on something, I want it to look good. So I will always go above and beyond to make sure my projects and presentations look good. So needless to say when my hard work was met with indifference, jealousy, or some other insane response, I would wonder, “Why is he or she acting like a jerk?”
Deep down in my heart, I always knew what the real reasons were. Some acted hostile towards me because they felt threatened by me, some lashed out because I wouldn’t dumb it down and I was “showing them up”—yes I actually had a manager tell me that before which left me thoroughly confused and others were just downright racists. In each of the situations that I just named those people didn’t want me to be great. In fact, they wanted me to dim my light so they could shine.
Regardless of what the reason was, it took me a minute to realize and accept the fact that you can’t change someone’s actions, but you can control how you react. It seems like a very simple lesson to learn but it really is easier said than done.
I struggled in learning this so I’m hoping this episode can help someone else. Again, I know how hard it can be to work with difficult people on the job, which can be especially challenging when that person is your boss. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself in this situation:
Make sure that you are not the problem.
I know that sounds insanely obvious, but trust me, sometimes it’s not that easy. Listen, I know everyone is not my cup of tea and I’m not their cup of tea. We all have different personalities. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be civilized and work together.
Business is business. I’m not getting paid to be your friend nor are you being paid to be mine. So you need to be sure you’re not projecting any insecurities you may feel about yourself as a result of being around this difficult person. For example, you may think this person is always closing deals because you’re currently not closing deals. In this instance not only are you unfairly comparing yourself to someone else, which you know is wrong, but you’re comparing their highs to your lows. That’s just going to breed further frustration and anger within you.
You can ask yourself these questions in order to ensure that you’re not the problem:
- Do I treat my [coworker/boss] with respect?
- Do I take ownership of my role?
- Is my work up to par?
- Did I do my due diligence in making sure I completed project XYZ in a timely manner?
- Am I reliable?
- Am I being a busybody?
I’m big on boundaries. Honestly, when I’m at work I stay by myself. I’m friendly and helpful, but I keep my distance. I don’t get too close to anyone on the job and I’m very careful with what I say and share. I’ve seen one too many so-called office friendships go left.
Plus, I have no desire to get involved in office gossip or politics. Regardless of how many times I hear people say, “We’re family,” I know we’re not. I know for darn sure that statement has never applied to someone who looks like me. It’s just something people say. It’s a psychological trap to entice you to trust them. The irony is the people who say this are often the exact same people who will turn on you the moment you disagree with them or they will not support you when you need it.
If you’re honest and have done everything in your power to ensure you’re not the problem, then you definitely need to make sure you’re in the right frame of mind first before you confront this difficult person.
Get your confidence in check
So many people complain about being mistreated but don’t take the necessary steps to change them. If you don’t have confidence in yourself no one else will either.
Again, not everyone is going to like you, but you control the narrative of whether they will respect you. I can’t help but think about the story of Daniel. CliffsNotes version Daniel was kidnapped by the Babylonians in order to work in the king’s palace. The king assigned them food and wine for them to eat and drink. Now, Daniel didn’t want to eat or drink anything that would go against God’s word. He got the guards to agree to a test. The guards gave Daniel nothing but vegetables and water to drink while the other servants ate from the king’s table. Long story made short, Daniel looked healthier and was better nourished than those who ate from the king’s table. That was just the beginning of Daniel’s journey in dealing with difficult people and circumstances.
Another more famous example is the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. Again CliffsNotes’ version, Daniel’s coworkers were jealous of him. The king was so impressed with Daniel’s work ethic that he wanted to make Daniel in charge of the whole kingdom. The evil coworkers wanted to get rid of him, but he was such an amazing employee that they couldn’t figure out how to do so. Therefore, they created a law that would make it illegal to pray to anyone other than the king. If someone was caught doing so, then they would be thrown into the lion’s den. These evil coworkers knew Daniel was a man of integrity.
When Daniel found out about the law, he not only prayed to God but did so with the windows open so everyone could see him praying. Talk about having guts right? To make a long story short again, Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den but he didn’t die. The king realized Daniel’s God was the real deal and threw the evil coworkers into the lion’s den. The evil coworkers were killed by the lions. Again, you have to love the irony here.
In both instances, Daniel could have allowed fear to get the best of him. After all, going against a king’s orders could have gotten you killed. Yet, Daniel chose to put God first. His faith in God gave him the confidence to stand up for himself. Daniel was confident enough to change a king’s mind.
Despite how uncomfortable you may feel, you have to have the courage to confront someone who you believe is disrespecting you. It’s the only way that you’re going to be able to sleep at night. Trust me, speaking from experience it’s pretty hard to be at peace with yourself when you allow someone to use your dignity as a doormat.
Now I realize that confronting someone, especially on the job is not easy. However, in order to gain confidence, you must keep in mind the following principles:
1) I will not put this job before Christ.
2) This job funds my life, it’s NOT my life. I work to live, not live to work.
3) This company hired me. They did not buy me.
4) Last but not least, remember that this person’s title means nothing to me. They don’t have heaven or hell to put me in so I’m going to say what I need to say.
Plus, you never know who you may influence by standing up for yourself. Nine times out of ten, if this person is disrespecting you they may be acting this way towards others in the office as well. All it takes is one person to stand up to a bully to inspire others to do the same.
I want to remind you just because someone maybe your boss, does NOT give them the right to be unfair or disrespect you. Difficult people who choose to act this way do so because they are insecure. They are nothing more than sad individuals who think they are God. They think their titles give them the power to be micro-managing tyrants.
Titles mean absolutely nothing to me. You treat me with respect, I will treat you with respect. If you attempt to disrespect me you will have a problem. Emphasis on you will have a problem, not me. I will say what needs to be said in a professional yet very stern tone. Trust me, I have no problem conveying my message and you would have to be completely dense to not understand the fact that your behavior is upsetting me.
Regardless of whether you are a CEO, President, or Director, I don’t care. We will be having a conversation if I deem your behavior to be out of line. I take great pleasure in letting you know that I’m not a doormat.
It’s a lot easier to have this type of confidence when we view our circumstances from both a physical and spiritual perspective. When we only view our circumstances from a physical perspective it will keep us weak in faith and constantly worrying about what people think and how they may try to retaliate. This will do nothing but cause you to become fearful, insecure, and loaded with other negative traits of Satan. As a result, this will in turn keep you from enjoying the journey to success.
We definitely don’t want that so now that you have your confidence it’s time to confront your Goliath aka the difficult person.
How to start the conversation
Depending on how upset I am, when I’m confronting someone it will start one of two ways, “Hey, can we talk?” or “I need to talk to you.” Regardless of which sentence you say, the tone in which you say it means EVERYTHING! You can not start this conversation sounding like a mouse. This is why I just went into great detail to make sure you feel confident enough to have this conversation. Even if you’re scared to death, if you want people to take you seriously, you need to project that you are confident. If this is your first time doing this you will be scared, but trust me it gets easier over time.
So once the difficult person replies yes, I explain how I feel. Again, depending on how much they have annoyed me and how strongly I feel at that moment, I’ll start off with, “I don’t know if you mean to do this, but you have been doing XYZ and I don’t like it,” or “Listen, I need you to stop doing XYZ because I don’t like it.”
Again, tone is everything! I bet you could probably sense the level of my frustration and anger based on each sentence. Now, I’m going to tell you right now, that difficult person is most likely going to either be surprised and embarrassed that you called out their disrespectful behavior or they are going to double down and make it seem like you’re crazy. If the difficult person is surprised/embarrassed they may apologize, accept it and move on with life. Just make sure their actions actually demonstrate they’re sorry and they truly stop behaving badly towards you.
However, if the difficult person attempts to belittle your attempt to correct their behavior, you need to make sure that you continue to stress your point. They will continue to lie in order to defend their behavior. I have no problem calling someone a liar if that’s what they are doing. Again, if you’re not into titles the ability to speak your mind will be much easier. Say what you have to say and let it go. Most likely the difficult person will be so frustrated that you called out their devious behavior they will most likely end the conversation. That’s okay because you said what you had to say. You put them on notice that you know what they are doing and will no longer tolerate their behavior. Most of the time having a conversation with the difficult person will usually put a stop to things, but if their behavior persists then you need to ask yourself, “Is this the place for me?”
Should I stay or should I go?
If the environment that you’re in is completely toxic and there’s no room for growth then by all means what are you waiting for…get out of there!
If you’re cool with the place you work at but even after you have had a conversation or even worse multiple conversations with that difficult person whether it be your manager, co-worker, or whoever is out of control, then you need to think about switching departments or look for another job.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “Wait, shouldn’t I go to HR?” I’m going to let you in on a little secret, HR is really there to protect the company. They do not work for not you. Unless you have proof of something so egregious like someone is breaking the law or something that is going to ruin the company’s reputation, the folks in HR have absolutely no incentive to help you. Their job is to ensure the company’s reputation remains favorable in the corporate world.
Speaking from personal experience and someone who many moons ago worked for a staffing agency, regardless of how much your HR rep smiles and tells you that they understand, do not make the mistake of thinking that HR is on your side and has your best interest at heart. Trust me they do not. As someone who has spent a good part of my life negotiating contracts I know when I’m being lied to. I know exactly what happens with negative employee feedback. They are going to go out of their way to protect the company by doing their best to discredit you in the process.
If you stood up for yourself, but the difficult person refuses to change and you can’t move to another department, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a battle worth fighting?” Again, look at the big picture. You may feel disappointed. Don’t be. This is God’s not-so-subtle way of telling you that your next adventure is right around the corner. I’ll never forget this was toward the very beginning of my journey through the corporate world. I got into it with a Director because they wanted me to lie about our sales revenue. They outright told me to make our revenue higher. They were literally asking me to lie about our sales revenue. I refused. I told them that I would not lie for them and that what they were doing was wrong. I also told them that I was tired of only getting compensated for one job when we both knew I was doing their job and my job.
For those who have inquiring minds, I actually did go to HR to alert them to what my boss was doing and surprise, surprise, they looked the other way. Why? Being in a position to report high sales revenue makes the company look good. The odds of someone outside the company conducting an investigation are slim to none. I ended up resigning from that job. I didn’t have a job lined up. Three weeks later God blessed me with another job making way more money than the one I had just left.
Regardless of what type of threat difficult people make on the job, God has shown me time and time again that if I put Him first, those difficult people will never be in a position to close a door that God wants to open for me. However, due to the fact that God allows us to have free will, it’s up to me to decide if I have the faith and confidence to stay on the path leading me toward that door.
I don’t know about you, but my answer will always be yes. I have no desire to look back on my life and realize that I didn’t get a chance to experience the plans God had in store for me all because I lacked the confidence necessary to see what was on the other side of that door.