Dealing with difficult people
In my last column, I talked about "slow to anger, quick to listen." It had advice for others as well as for myself. The same week I submitted that article for publication, I was put to test by a difficult person in my work place.
I graduated from college in 1985. Since then, I have been through two graduate programs and various jobs. I have never had any memorable problems and conflicts with anyone in schools or workplaces. I think I get along with people well.
My response towards people who are difficult is to stay away from them.
So, even though there is a difficult person in my office since I started working there several years ago, and some former colleagues left jobs because of the unhealthy environment caused by that person, I was doing fine. I never felt targeted.
But it all changed last week.
Lately, I had some issues with that person. Because I thought what that person did or did not do was not good for effective business operation, for customer service and for team work, I reported the unprofessional conduct to my supervisor.
That resulted in big trouble for me. I could feel the heat coming afterwards.
A message was sent to everyone in my office about a minor error I made. It was not a big deal at all. It didn't cause any problem and could be easily corrected.
Personally, I won't act the way that person did. If I find someone made that kind of innocent mistake, I would simply tell him in private and ask him to fix it. I won't broadcast it to everyone who has nothing to do with it.
But I was OK with what that person did, because I welcome others' criticism and corrections. I like to know what I did wrong so I can do better. I like to take responsibilities for my actions and mistakes.
I don't have a big ego and I have enough self-esteem. So I have no problem admitting my mistakes in public if necessary.
That person could report my errors to my supervisor, my supervisor's supervisor, or the highest power in the organization; it won't bother me so much.
But days later, that person sent another e-mail to everyone in my office reporting another, but similar kind of mistake I supposedly made. What angered me was the mistake she reported publicly didn't actually happen. I had the facts to prove it.
When I confronted that person, she even lied to my face and denied the thing she did for which I could again find prove.
It was hard to not get angry when I was in that situation.
How could things like that happen? It was just unbelievable to me.
I know there are always difficult people in every organization. Otherwise there won't be so many books or presentations on dealing with difficult people.
Now I finally experienced and realized how difficult people can be. I started to understand why people leave jobs because of difficult people and unhealthy work environment.
I also saw the limits of what an individual or organization can do.
In the private sector, it is much easier to fire someone who is difficult, incompetent and can't do his job well.
But in the public sector, it seems like almost impossible to fire someone.
Some supervisors simply give in to difficult people and give up their efforts to fire difficult people, because it is too cumbersome. It is not worth of their time and efforts.
Not being able to reward good employees and discipline difficult employees efficiently and effectively is also a problem in the public sector.
In my case, I did let my supervisor and colleagues know what the truth was.
I did write a firm letter to that person stating clearly what happened and what was wrong. I said it was not acceptable to fabricate things about another person in the public.
I also requested a public apology from that person. So far it has not happened, which was not surprising to me.
But I felt good that I stood up for myself and set the boundaries. And I did all I could do in my power.
In the end, I just have to let it go.
I know difficult people are difficult for a reason.
I know I can't do anything to change them or the situation. All I can change is my reaction and my attitude toward them.
I know harboring anger toward that difficult person does not do me any good. It will affect my mind, my health, my life in a negative way.
Taking the high road is really the only way to keep the peace I want. And having some compassion for that difficult person is what I should do.