How to deal with difficult people in the workplace
We encounter a plethora of personalities during our working life. Some we may find challenging, others we may think of as kindred spirits.
Meeting people who are like-minded often makes workplace relationships seem easy. But what do we do when a colleague comes across as aggressive, intimidating or controlling? Are we doomed to a high conflict and over stressed workplace?
No, not when there are tools available to help manage these different types of behaviour.
Harvard psychologist, Dr William Moulton Marston, developed one such model in the 1920s – known as the DISC model. The model outlines that people tend to develop a self-concept based on one of four factors – dominance, inducement, steadiness, or compliance. There are other more recent theories, but they generally reference similar themes to what Dr Marston had to say.
AccessEAP, a corporate psychology organisation that supports and develops positive organisational behaviour, adopts evidence-based theories and practices to improve workplace wellbeing.
Recent data from Access EAP shows one of the top five leading issues in the workplace is conflict. This can influence people in different ways, but more specifically can lead to having difficulty concentrating, feeling less productive, and increase absenteeism and resignation.
We worry that disagreeing or standing up to a colleague might lead to being reported to a manager or perhaps being seen as difficult. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t react when faced with a difficult situation. In fact, if you don’t, your career can suffer and you’ll fail to gain the respect and trust you want from others.
With this in mind, we should focus on ‘how’ we say what we need to say and find ways to deal with different personalities in the workplace.
Here, we look at how the DISC model can help to manage workplace conflict and challenging communications:
1. Understand the other person’s focus
Is your colleague task driven or people oriented? Do they focus on goals and activities? Or do they place more emphasis on relationships and interactions? When you understand where a colleague’s focus lies, then you find a way of communicating that best meets both of your needs.
2. Understand the other person’s pacing
Are they slow to react and have difficulty processing information? Or are they reactive and fast-paced? If you can determine how they process and react to communications, you can pace your own communications in the best way to be understood.
3. Focus on behaviour rather than the person
According to the DISC model, we can try to establish where a person’s behavioural styles best fit. The four styles described by Guy Harris at discpersonalitytesting.com include:
- People who have both outgoing and task-oriented traits often exhibit dominant and direct behaviours. They usually focus on results, problem solving, and the bottom-line.
- People who have both outgoing and people-oriented traits often exhibit inspiring and interactive behaviours. They usually focus on interacting with people, having fun, and/or creating excitement.
- People who have both reserved and people-oriented traits often exhibit supportive and steady behaviours. They usually focus on preserving relationships and on creating or maintaining peace and harmony.
- People who have both reserved and task-oriented traits often exhibit cautious and careful behaviours. They usually focus on facts, rules, and correctness.
In your own words show the other person you have heard their viewpoint. This demonstrates you have understood and gives the person a chance to explain further until they feel they have been totally heard. Remember, understanding does not mean agreeing.
5. Avoid seeming judgemental
In order to communicate effectively, you do need to set aside your judgement, and withhold blame and criticism in order to fully understand the person. Where possible, build rapport and identify the other person’s perspective. Some of the most difficult communication scenarios, when successfully executed, can lead to the most profound connections with others.
The author, Sally Kirkright, is chief executive officer of AccessEAP.