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3 ways to deal with difficult people

Feb. 12, 2020
Everyone will deal with difficult patients at some point in their career. It's often your attitude that can make the difference. Office manager Helen Funk says don't take things personally, and shares other ideas to make these encounters easier.

Anyone who has ever worked with a group of people or has held a leadership position has experienced a difficult person at some point. Difficult people come in all shapes and sizes. They can be a coworker, boss, client, or patient. In a perfect world, everyone we interact with would be positive, happy, and a motivated team player. But let's face it; in the real world we’re presented with people who push our buttons, undermine our values, and exhibit behaviors that are not conducive to team morale. 

Difficult people are a part of life; there is no way of dodging that encounter, and trust me, I’ve tried. When we interpret another person's behavior as difficult or challenging, we give rise to conflictwhich occurs due to individual differences or disagreements. How conflict is handled depends on each person, and there is no "best" way to deal with it. What you can do, however, is learn about the different ways to deal with difficult people and learn which approach works best in each situation. 

If there’s one thing I've learned, it’s that my effectiveness in dealing with conflict depends on how I react to it. Here are three conflict resolutions that I've used many times to help me cope with difficult people in all areas of my life.  

Don't take it personally 

I abide by this rule daily and I tell my daughters, “Don’t take things personally. It’s not you, and often the other person is projecting their bad day onto you." In the dental industry, we often encounter difficult and emotionally challenging patients, so this is where my mantra comes in very handy. It’s the ego's prerogative to feel special, and that’s why it's so easy for us to get caught up in all types of drama, thus making everything about us. In reality, it's not about us at all and the other person is just having a bad day. So, let it go. 

Start a difficult conversation with flattery 

Anytime I need to have what may be a difficult conversation, I start by telling the person how much I value them and the relationship we’ve developed, one that allows us to be ourselves and be honest with each other about unpleasant things. I always mean what I say. I understand that we have bad days and I separate the behavior from the person. I like to follow this by getting the person’s agreement that they feel the same, and this opens the door for a conversation. I create a sense that we're on "the same team," and I'm not out to get them.  

Call out the behavior, not the person 

As I mentioned, I practice separating the behavior from the person. I address the behavior in question and provide people with clear examples of what they did and why it went against the practice's values. I don't like using the word "wrong" when attempting to manage and resolve conflict. It has a negative connotation and implies that the person is “bad.” Instead, I ask questions to get a better understanding of the person’s thought process because it allows me to put myself in their shoes and think of solutions that target the issue at hand. This results in the behavior eventually becoming extinct.  

Good luck as you get out there and deal with those difficult people!

Helen B. Funk has been working as the office manager of Cosmopolitan Dental since its inception in 2006. As the primary patient liaison, Helen's goal is to accommodate the patients in a professional, knowledgeable, and personable manner. She is currently enrolled in NYU and is working toward a certificate in leadership and organizational development. She is keen on ensuring that the office runs smoothly from the front desk. In her free time Helen enjoys writing, traveling, yoga, and exploring new restaurants in New York City.

About the Author

Helen B. Funk

Helen B. Funk has been working as the practice manager of Cosmopolitan Dental since its inception in 2006. She has a BA in psychology and holds a certification from New York University in Leadership and Organizational Development. Helen's goal is to ensure that the office runs smoothly, the employees are engaged, happy, and productive, and that the patients have an unforgettable experience when they come in to see their hygienist and/or dentist. In her free time, Helen enjoys writing for her personal blog, practicing meditation and yoga, and exploring new restaurants in New York City.