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Dealing with difficult people

New York Teacher
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We all encounter difficult people in our lives. Whether it’s a family member, a co-worker or a supervisor, difficult people can turn a good day into a bad one if you don’t have strategies for dealing with the challenge.

Difficult people have a wide variety of personality types, including the bully, the know-it-all, the complainer, the “yes person” who never delivers, the hyper-negative person and the unresponsive person. Different approaches are needed for the different personalities, so it helps to analyze your situation and develop a suitable strategy.

Common traits of difficult people:

  • Talk constantly and rarely acknowledge how others feel;
  • Act defensively and don’t hold themselves accountable for their actions;
  • Critical of others;
  • Challenging to reason with;
  • If they are authority figures, they may play favorites and pit people against one another.

What’s the answer?

Here are some strategies:

  • Stay calm: It’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Take a breath or count to 10 before you respond.
  • Listen: Everyone wants to be heard and acknowledged. Sometimes feeling heard is all the person wants.
  • Look for an ally: The support of another colleague can help defuse the situation.
  • Don’t act defensively: Remember that the behavior of a difficult person is not actually about you.
  • Maintain your boundaries: You have the right to be respected, so politely say, “Please don’t talk to me like that,” or, “Now is not a good time; can we talk about this after school?”

Debrief, discharge and acknowledge: After the situation is over, talk to someone you trust. Find a way to discharge the negative energy, such as going for a walk on your prep period or eating your lunch outside. Acknowledge your efforts — it’s not easy to be kind and keep your composure when someone else is being difficult. You deserve credit!

See additional resources »

The UFT Member Assistance Program offers short-term counseling and outside referrals to help you deal with a wide range of issues. You can contact MAP by calling 212-701-9620 or by emailing mapinfo@uft.org. Appointments and referrals are available Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 50 Broadway in Manhattan.