Dealing with Difficult Personalities on a Daily Basis

Julie Shenkman
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Administrative professionals work with a wide range of people during the course of a normal business day. Inevitably, some of those people have difficult personalities that test the patience and professionalism of others. Instead of allowing challenging co-workers to sabotage your performance, learn coping strategies to help you deal with them.

Remove the Emotion

Dealing with difficult personalities can cause a variety of negative emotions, particularly if a person's behavior offends you on a personal level. Before you act on a situation, take a moment to stop and remove the emotion from the situation. Identify the exact personality quirk or characteristic that troubles you. Then, examine your reaction. Does the person irritate you only when you are under stress? Does the person's behavior clash with one of your pet peeves or personal beliefs? Examining the situation objectively can help you determine whether or not you are overreacting based on personal biases or if the person is truly difficult.

Identify the Root Cause

In some cases, people with difficult personalities behave badly in response to a certain trigger or situation. Observe the person's behavior for a week, and note when they become difficult. Then, examine the circumstances surrounding each instance. Look for patterns that might indicate a cause. One co-worker might snap at you when deadlines loom near, while another may act demanding or irritable after a reprimand from a superior. When you realize that the problem has nothing to do with you, it is easier to keep your cool while dealing with the person.

Change Your Behavior

One of the simplest — and most difficult — ways to deal with difficult personalities is to change your reaction. Changing another person's behavior is an uphill battle; changing your own is fully within your control. When a co-worker is difficult, react in a way that diffuses the situation. Instead of reacting with anger, use a calm voice. Be empathetic. Without emotion, explain how the person's actions are making it impossible for you to do your job. Alternatively, take proactive steps to deal with the person. If they are slow to meet deadlines and irritable under pressure, send documents and forms well in advance of the due date. If they are loud and obnoxious, meet with them in spaces that require quiet discussion.

Minimize Interaction

When all else fails, minimize your interaction with people who have difficult personalities. Keep all of your meetings short and concise. Use email to communicate, and avoid in-person discussions whenever possible. By keeping your face-to-face time to a minimum, you can avoid the constant, low-lying irritation that sabotages productivity. As a result, you can approach difficult people with a greater sense of calm.

For administrative professionals, dealing with difficult personalities is an inevitable part of the job. By approaching the situation objectively and devising clear strategies for dealing with each person, you can reduce stress and create a more pleasant working environment.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Linda thanks for your comment. It is true that it hard sometimes to keep your business and family life separate and not allow them to encroach on each other. If one of your employees is suffering for whatever reason, offer some guidance to them. Direct them to a mental health provider or offer to let them let off steam with you all the while assuring them that their issues do not leave the room. Management doesn't always see what other co-workers see, either. So if one of your coworkers is struggling, offer a listening ear. But if the home life is encroaching on work to the point where the employee is unable to complete their assigned tasks, that is where you truly have to step in.

  • Linda G.
    Linda G.

    I was told once that each person lives in their own little private hell. I try to keep this in mind when dealing with others. Easy to say leave your baggage at home but sometimes personal problems are so overwhelming it is difficult to overcome the pain and others need to be careful if they realize a colleague is in that situation. What if your wife is dying or your personal life has taken a downward trend. It is not easy leaving those at home. Frozen the movie says "let it go" but that is harder than you think. MGT should be knowledgeable enough of their employees to know when a problem exists and offer some support. I do not enjoy elitist management because they too live in their private hell and should be open to their employees.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Elizabeth thanks for your comment. Yes we should leave all of our personal baggage at home so that we can concentrate on our job but, realistically, that is almost impossible. We just need to do the best we can to separate our personal life from our home life; to keep work at work and home at home.

  • Elizabeth P.
    Elizabeth P.

    I think a person is suppose to leave personal at home, before being at the workplace.

  • Madeleine Vasquez
    Madeleine Vasquez

    Excellent article ! I often wonder why people are allowed to impose their bad behavior upon others on a regular basis. Someone ought to tell them to put their office pants on & stop the bullying.

  • Katherine T.
    Katherine T.

    Great advice! Thank you.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments. @Ana most people have NO idea what an administrative assistant has to handle on a daily basis. Adding difficult people - such as bosses - to the mix makes the day even more stressful. Sometimes it's hard to maintain your professionalism. Glad that the article could help you out.

  • Ana L.
    Ana L.

    That's definitively a great article. Well writed and with a clear exposition of the theme. It presents the best way to handle these situations!

  • Kris F.
    Kris F.

    I found the article interesting/informative to me.

  • melissa h.
    melissa h.

    Yes I absolutely do

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kerry great advice for all of us!

  • KERRY C.
    KERRY C.

    Nancy, I was admin to a Board of 6... And each was my "boss". Treat the one who is causing issues with kid gloves. Go out of your way to be pleasant with them... And take the emotions out of the situation. Think like a therapist... What is going on that has the person so stressed? Would I act like that too if I was them? Keep a level head. Good luck!

  • KERRY C.
    KERRY C.

    I feel it's a matter of being open to communications with a diverse group of people. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Laura thanks for your comment. So very true. There is always one person in every group. But I have learned that if I can just be patient - keep my head down and do my work - that person won't last long. In my experience, these difficult people only want to cause drama. If you don't respond, then there's no drama and they will move on. Leaving a company due to one bad apple would really be a shame. Every company has at least one so the chances are that you will encounter this difficulty again. Always be polite and professional and, for the most part, ignore this person.

  • Laura Lewis
    Laura Lewis

    Unfortunately we all have come across a difficult situation or individual in the workplace. Create your boundaries and remember that the most common solution isn't the one offered by the company. If exit strategy is needed, do it professionally, it will benefit you in the future. Stay positive in your quest for answers to your situation.

  • Rita P.
    Rita P.

    Well written commentary

  • Rita P.
    Rita P.

    My experience was working w/ students of

  • Heather C.
    Heather C.

    Honestly I have a great ability to create open minded and positive conversation with otherwise " difficult people".

  • Vernita M.
    Vernita M.

    I'm trying to become the next best admin asst of 2015 until 2040...willing with eagerness to get back into the workforce


    Ditto - thanks for the reminder

  • Lindora R.
    Lindora R.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Bruce thank you for that. It is so true that we should always maintain open and honest communications right from the very first introduction. If there are issues while on the job, it is best to bring them up and talk them through - even if it means that you have to involved your HR department or have another manager sitting in while you express calmly and rationally what the issues are. Offer suggestions on how you think the issues might be resolved and then follow through on them. You never know what is going on in that person's life that is causing them to be "difficult". Sometimes just a smile and saying something nice to that person can make all of the difference.

  • Bruce C.
    Bruce C.

    As a pastor I can assure you that I have had to interact with various, sometimes difficult, personalities. However, I am certain that there were times that I was the difficult personality and didn't even know it! It may sound cliche' but communication and honesty from the beginning of a relationship is vital. This begins even in the application/interview process. Any relationship, in this case employer/employee that begins on a faulty foundation will eventually crumble.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Tamara so sorry you went through that. Fortunately you got a nice fat bonus but I have to wonder about the statement that you would be hired by this corporation again. Legally I am not sure that they could get away with it. What was their justification for letting you go? What were your performance reviews like? If you were a good worker with no disciplinary issues or anything else on your record, they can't really justify their statement. Makes me wonder what would happen if you were to apply for another position within the corporation - especially since you loved the work and gained the experience. Might be worth a shot just to find out.

  • Tamara G.
    Tamara G.

    Nancy - A female boss for a team of 4 was so rude and obnoxious on a daily basis it was such a shock the first time it happened just 3 days after I started after moving from across the country for the job. She yelled at me in airports on week 2, started badgering me in restaurants to the point I had to get up and go outside before I dumped a table on her. She would not share the rental car on trips for me to go to church on Sunday and that was the only time I asked for it. I went to HR Director who had just started (never again) and had a sit down meeting called by the Big Boss over all of the QA Dept. His secretary almost cried as I was telling her what was taking place. Then I saw the my boss and our Supe padding the expense reports and I knew that was the end. A week later I was let go gracefully, with a nice fat bonus and a statement that I would never be hired in any part of the corporation anywhere in the USA and this is the largest healthcare corporation a. I loved the work itself, loved it and learned a lot while I was there. Wrong place, wrong time but I was so sad and still ask "why". I would love to see the corporation fold but a lot of people would be out a job and I don't want that but I wont ever step foot in one of their hospitals so I get a little satisfaction along the way. LOL

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