We all know what it’s like to get sucked into office drama, no matter how hard we try to avoid it. The passive-aggressive boss, the executive’s assistant who supports their ‘favorites’ more than everyone else, the coworker who just can’t seem to admit when they make a mistake…offices are full of difficult people.

So how do we deal with difficult people in the workplace?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No matter where you go, there you are?” There will always be difficult people in the workplace (and in life!), and the only constant between these situations is YOU. The first step in dealing with office drama is to look inward, rather than externally. We must ask ourselves how our past relationships may be affecting how we are responding to current situations (our first ‘bosses’ were our parents, after all). Could it be that you are unconsciously ‘attracting’ the same type of person to your life time and time again, or perhaps it’s your response that makes them seem familiar to you?

When we take the time to clearly see how others’ behavior is triggering ours, and discern whether we are responding consciously vs reacting unconsciously, we begin to take back some of the power we feel like we lost to the difficult person we are dealing with.

Take Selena, for example. Selena is an executive assistant in a big financial company, who was struggling with a new coworker (we’ll call her Lisa) who refused to do things in a new way. Every time Selena would ask Lisa to do something in a specific way, she’d hit a brick wall. Lisa would simply respond that that’s “not how I do things,” and then give her the cold shoulder. After a while, Selena got tired of hitting that brick wall, and naturally stopped engaging Lisa altogether. But then Selena did some exploring around her own reaction to Lisa. Why is this upsetting me so much? After some reflection, Selena realized that Lisa was making her feel like she was back in high school, dealing with the ‘popular girls.’ She also realized that because of their age difference (Selena is about 20 years younger than Lisa), that Lisa may be uncomfortable receiving advice or instructions from someone she perceives as less qualified. Once Selena realized that they were not solely reacting to each other in the present moment, but reacting to each other’s insecurities and past experiences, she was able to take a whole new approach to dealing with Lisa, rather than being stuck in unconscious, reactive patterns. Selena approached Lisa with more compassion and less fear and the dynamic seemed to change.

We have no control over other people, we only have control over how we respond to them.

People tend to act out when their needs, in some way, are not being met, and although it can be helpful to figure out the why behind someone’s behavior, it is not our responsibility to then meet their needs.

So what can we do about it?

What we can do is use mindfulness techniques and our emotional intelligence to respond rather than react. We can draw healthy boundaries with unhealthy people, and stick to them, and we can give honest and direct feedback whenever the opportunity arises, without being attached to the outcomes. This way, at the end of the day, we can look back and feel confident that our side of the street is clean…that we were the “bigger person,” and we can let go of the rest.

It would have been just as easy, (if not easier) for Selena to find a way to work-around Lisa. It’s extremely common in the workplace.  Selena’s awareness that she felt rejected by Lisa, much like in high school, released her from the hold. She realized she doesn’t need to be Lisa’s friend, she just needs to find a way to work with her.

For more tips on exploring how the mother-daughter relationship may be affecting your career, check out What’s Mom Still Got To Do With It?

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