Whether you work alone or among hundreds at a large corporation, you’re likely to have experienced difficulties when interacting with clients or colleagues. These difficulties could be the result of a personality clash, a bad day, or a challenging situation, but whatever the reason, dealing with difficult people is often part of the job — regardless of what you do for a living.
As someone who strives to live a positive life, I usually recommend avoiding negative people or people who have a negative influence on your life, but when it comes to the workplace, creating distance isn’t always an option. There are people we have to work with, regardless of whether or not we get along or share the same perspective.
Here are some of the best ways to stay positive and make the most of your workday when you’re dealing with difficult people.
1. Focus on yourself
The people you spend a great deal of time with have the ability to deeply impact how you feel — but only if you allow them to influence you. The best way to keep others’ behaviors and words from influencing you in a negative way is to pay close attention to how you feel when you’re in a difficult situation or engaged in a challenging interaction.
In particular, ask yourself these questions: How am I feeling right now? How do I want to be feeling? How can I create more positive feelings in this situation? Giving your attention to these questions will help to give you some perspective on the situation and will remind you that you have the power to control how you interact with and react to others. When dealing with difficult people, it’s important to focus on what you can control — your own actions and emotions — and let go of what you cannot control — the way others act and react.
2. Choose a positive mantra
Sometimes we get so caught up in stressful interactions with difficult people that we need a reminder to come back to the present moment and away from a highly emotional state.
One way to create such a reminder for yourself is to have a word that you can say to yourself when you want to direct your attention from the negative behavior of others. It’s helpful to choose a word that reflects how you want to feel — calm, stress-free, positive, relaxed, etc — or a positive mantra, such as “I will not let others’ behavior change my mindset.”
When you find yourself dealing with a difficult coworker, recall your word or mantra and repeat it in your head until you feel you’re in a more positive mindset. The word or mantra won’t change the behavior of others, but it can help you focus your attention on a more positive state of mind, which will ease some of the difficulty of whatever situation you’re in.
3. Take a mental step back
When you’re dealing with a particularly difficult person at work, sometimes it can be helpful to remove yourself mentally. This doesn’t mean avoiding the situation or person altogether — as we know, that’s rarely possible at work — but sometimes it can be helpful to take a little mental break from the situation.
If you can remove your mental state from the negative place you’ve found yourself in, you’ll probably gain a lot more clarity about the situation and how it’s making you feel. The best way to take a mental step back from a situation is to focus on what’s working in your work life. In the midst of a difficult interaction, take a deep breath and consider what things are going well at work.
Focusing on the big picture can help make your current interaction more manageable and help you to see that this difficult individual is only one aspect of your work experience.
4. Know that it will end
It might be hard to do this in the moment, but try to keep in mind that whatever difficult interaction you’re having with a colleague or client will come to an end.
Reminding yourself that, no matter how difficult this individual is, you won’t have to interact with him or her forever can provide you with an opportunity to keep the situation in perspective. (Perspective is essential for making sure someone else’s negative emotions or actions don’t overwhelm you.) When you have an end in sight, it will become easier to interact with even the most difficult people.
Tell yourself, “This will not last forever,” and you’ll find that the moments you’re interacting with the person will get a bit easier. If possible, try to call to mind any positive interactions you’ve had with this person (or, if you haven’t had any, try to recall if you’ve seen this person interacting positively with another person). Keeping in mind that positivity is possible — and that negative interactions won’t last forever — can make almost any interaction go more smoothly.
5. Surround yourself with positivity
Whenever you can, try to surround yourself with positive people at work. Positivity is contagious, and the more time you spend with positive people, the more positive you’ll feel.
You may not have the option to be around positive people all of the time, but the time you spend with positive coworkers can balance out the difficult interactions you have with challenging colleagues.
It can also be helpful to schedule time with positive people right after you’ve had a negative interaction to help boost your mindset back to a more optimistic place. If you can’t meet with them in person, call them for a quick chat — or call a positive-minded friend if no coworkers fit the bill.
Wherever you can find positivity, you have an opportunity to boost your mood, and a mood boost can go a long way when it comes to conquering challenging interactions.
Want more insights on making the most of life at work? Check out Dani DiPirro’s new book, The Positively Present Guide to Life.