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Creating Successful Leaders

It’s not uncommon to have met some of your best friends through work. Yet we also know that the workplace is full of people who seem dead set on making things more difficult for everyone around them. In order to maintain a productive and fulfilling work environment, it’s vital to know how to effectively deal with “problem people,” as we will lovingly call them.

The problem person comes in many varieties. There’s the passive-aggressive person, the micro-manager, the hostile one, the egotistical guy/gal, the overly-dramatic one, and the list goes on. Hara Estroff Marano of Psychology Today states that these diverse personalities all share a common trait:

“Their MO is to provoke, then make you feel you have no reason to react—and it’s all your fault to begin with!”

Their power therefore comes from “getting a rise” out of you. Which means that in order to reestablish control in a situation, you must identify when, where and how a problem person is manipulating your emotions.

First, we must step back and try to remain composed during an unpleasant exchange. Doing so gives us the chance to evaluate the situation clearly. “Therein lies your advantage,” says Marano. “It allows you to predict the specific emotional trap being set for you, which is your passport to getting your own power back.” Although it seems counter-intuitive in the moment, keeping calm even while being yelled at demonstrates that the difficult person you’re dealing with has no power over how you react; you alone possess this power.

Next, determine when and where you are most likely to interact with your difficult person, and form a strategy that limits their negative influence on you. Physician Susan Biali provides a few examples of what this looks like:

“Minimize time with problem people. Keep interactions as short as possible.”

Some personality types just don’t mix well, and it may be best for both parties if you restrict face time with your difficult person to business-only exchanges.

“Before any interaction with a difficult person, mentally review the topics that invite attack and make an effort to avoid them.”

In this way, you are withholding fuel they could use to cultivate negativity in the workplace.

Whatever you do, don’t let the problem go unresolved. You may need to confront the person head-on if their behavior continues to hinder your ability to get work done. If this be the case, use “I” statements that seek to show how their behavior effects you, and do your best to be gentle, reasonable and to-the-point. Often, people giving you problems may not be aware that they’re impacting you in a negative way.

Overall, remember that only you control your behavior, your reactions and your emotions. Patience, perspective and a grain of salt go a long way when it comes to effectively dealing with difficult people.

1 “The High Art of Handling Problem People,” last modified July 2, 2012, Psychology Today, accessed November 5, 2012,


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