Handling Difficult People

Kristin Davin

Today, we conclude our three-part interview with Kristin Davin, a licensed psychologist in Camp Hill, PA. Be sure to watch the videos about your predominant personal conflict style and understanding your role in conflict.

If someone is having difficulty working with others, the assumption would be that THEY are the problem.  Would you say this is a true statement? Why or why not?

There are some people who are just difficult to work with—no question.   This has been demonstrated through their work history. Assessing how difficult a person is requires a look at several factors. It is common, at least initially, that a person on the receiving end will personalize the behaviors of the difficult person, thinking that they are the problem until there is an opportunity to put both the person and their behaviors in a different context. The person on the receiving end may struggle to see the “trees beyond the forest” and quickly feel that they are the problem. One way to look at this is to ask yourself whether this is a fact or a feeling.   What evidence do you have that would substantiate that this is true? Sometimes there really is evidence, though not as much as one might think. Sometimes the person simply is just difficult and no reasoning or talking will change the person. It often helps to step back from the situation to obtain a more objective view.

We often want the other person to change.  We remain hopeful that, if you and that person have a conversation just one more time, the other person may finally get it and make changes that will create a more positive atmosphere. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes it doesn’t.

What steps would you take to counsel someone who is dealing with habitual conflict?

Steps I might take to counsel someone who is dealing with habitual conflict is to a) help them tomanage their work environment and b) help them to implement self-care. They might not be able to change their work environment, especially in today’s job market. Someone may want to leave but they cannot leave for many reasons. Importance is placed on how to help them manage the conflict at work, remain sane, and get their work done while keeping their job. I also believe strongly in self-care, doing positive things for yourself to decrease the internal conflict because of the work environment. Consideration is made for what can realistically be done based on a person’s place at work, their personality, ability to change, and flexibility in thinking. Ultimately helping the person to make some change for themselves, even if the conflict does not decrease or altering the environment is unlikely. In helping others, I often take this position:   If the other person does not change, what would you like to do about it? What can you do about it? What has worked in the past that has been successful? What hasn’t worked? Can some of these directions or suggestions be revisited? What if the other person does not change no matter what tactics are attempted? Sometimes it is the recognition that it is more about the other person than it is about you, as many of us tend to personalize the behaviors of difficult people.   Though challenging at times, learning how to accept the limitations of others and the situation itself can prove very beneficial.

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Stephanie Trdenic
Stephanie Trdenic

Sylvia, One way that has worked for me is to disarm the difficult person with telling them, in a humorous way, how they seem to be acting. in at least 3 different situations, the person has been so caught off guard that they start to look at their own behavior and how it may come off to others. One example is a nurse I worked with, who, from the very beginning of my job, snapped at me constantly and really made me feel I was too stupid to do my job. One day, when she snapped at me yet again, I laughed and said something like, "Are you always this nasty?" She was so shocked, she actually asked me, looking concerned, "Do you really think I'm nasty all the time?" and I told her I just assumed she disliked me and thought I was an idiot: Her response was, "No I do like you; I'm sorry I came off that way " do you believe we actually became good friends after that? I think she could still be the same way with other people, but it solved the problem for me!