Three Ideas for Dealing with Difficult People at Work

Three Ideas for Dealing with Difficult People at Work June 8, 2014

A new person had joined the department. The director walked her around, introducing her to the various teams and people. And then she came back, visiting people in their offices and cubicles, seeking the answer to her most pressing question.

“Where are the real power centers around here?”

“What?” I responded, unsure if I had heard correctly.

“Who are the power people in the department? I don’t have time to waste finding out on my own.”

She was serious.

I have generally liked the people I’ve worked with over a 40-year career. And I’ve worked with some odd, eccentric ones (the price you pay for having a degree in journalism). But never had I met someone like that, openly and brazenly political, not caring who knew.

Do I Have to Like the People I Work With?

More like her came along later. They are not givers; they are takers. These are the kind of people I have the greatest difficulty liking.

They generally do little work, but they are masters at giving the appearance of impression of doing work. They take credit for what others do. They are always looking for ways to move upward, and they have a callous disregard for anyone they believe can’t help them move up.

They can and do deliberately lie. They avoid accepting any responsibility for what they do and what they say about others.

Every organization for which I’ve worked has had at least one person like this. My internal alarm system goes off as soon as I meet one. One time I worked for one – for almost two years. It was not a good experience.

I don’t like them as people. I don’t trust them as work colleagues. I avoid them to the extent that I can. But how do you avoid your boss?

We can’t avoid our boss. And we can’t avoid the people we have to work with. Instead, we have to find a way to deal with them.

For me, it’s a three-step process.

1. Pray.

And this can take time. Sometimes I think that these people are there specifically to teach me something – and how long they stay in their positions means it’s taking me a long time to learn something.

The “who are the power centers?” person was in my workplace for the next twenty years! I had a lot of praying to do.

2. Speak plainly to those who engage in office politics.

If it is causing problems in our workplace, we will have to confront, and we will have to call something what it is. We shouldn’t do this in a patronizing way, but in a straightforward way, even when it’s the boss. Saying nothing is essentially being a co-dependent, facilitating bad behavior in the workplace. But we do have to speak in love, with a humble heart and a clear head. I am certainly not perfectly proficient at doing this.

It’s not only the person playing office politics. It’s also the loud and obnoxious person. And the gossip. And the person who plays mind games for entertainment. The braggart. The person that we consider “irregular,” and not necessarily in a good way. (You see where this is going – not many people will be left once we identify every person that can be irritating at work, including ourselves!)

3. Accept a more expansive definition of “neighbor.”

…As in, “love your neighbor.” Just because that person may be a jerk by most human standards doesn’t let us off the hook. We still have to find a way to love the jerk in the workplace, because he or she is our neighbor, too.

It took me a long time to come to grips with that expanded definition of “neighbor.” A long time. I still struggle with it.

We are not called to like everyone we work with. But we are called to love them.


Image by Thomas Tolkien. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

This post originally appeared at The High Calling.


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