I’d like to suggest that there are levels of difficultness, and they might need different approaches from you:
Level 1 is the person who is just different to you. They aren’t really difficult at all, at least to many other people, but for you their difference is a problem.
At work they might be more detail-obsessed than you; they might be faster than you in the way they work, or take more – or fewer – risks than you, and you might find this difficult; and in their personal life they might be more emotional than you, or they might be very fussy about the cleanliness of their home, or really untidy and dirty in your view. They might want to control their kids more than you think is right, or less than you think is right, and you might feel that they are judging you for this – in fact they probably are! But maybe it’s a good idea just to live and let live – they are entitled to their opinion on how they live their lives aren’t they? And it’s not their fault that they are different to you. Once you realize that difference is the problem, they aren’t too bad and you can work out what you need to do.
Next is level 2, the person who isn’t a bad person, but they are just incompetent. These are the people who are not very disciplined, or not very organised, so they annoy you, or they are just a bit low on communication skills and empathy so you find them difficult.
They aren’t the same as the type 1’s who are OK but different to you, these people are not OK, they do have problems in their performance,which they may or not be aware of and may or may not care about, and so it is necessary to find strategies to handle them – either to contain them or to change them.
Finally there is level 3, the evil people, the toxic people, who are worse than incompetent, they are actively bad! I was going to say that thankfully they are quite rare, but actually in some organizations they are depressingly common! In a way it’s not entirely their fault, they have perhaps been damaged by their upbringing or bad management or bad luck, but now, here they are, a bit of a nightmare – so it’s a problem, whether they are aware of it or not. And even if they know they have a problem, they might feel unable to change. And YOU might well decide it’s not worth trying to change them – you may decide to live with them because they are worth having overall, or to find ways to work around them, or to avoid them and get them out of your life.
Here are six signs that someone might be genuinely toxic:
1. They have problems with EVERYONE– and then they mostly criticize others, they rarely or never have a nice word to say about others – and you know that they probably say the same kind of things about YOU behind your back!
2. They might actively criticize you to your face, maybe in the form of “advice”. They may even try to control you: “You shouldn’t eat so much Chinese food; you should stop seeing Dave I don’t like him; you shouldn’t be so open about your opinions in meetings” etc.
3. A big sign of toxic people is that they are selfish: We’re all a bit selfish but they are just not interested in you at all – this shows in ways like them being a bad listener, talking about themselves a lot rather than giving attention to you – and their selfishness sometimes shows financially: for example they don’t pay their share when you’re out with them.
4. Another key sign of toxic people is that they lie– if you ever find someone lying, and I don’t mean white lies to spare someone’s feelings, I mean full on deception – if you catch them out on a real lies, get rid of them, get them out of your life right now.
5. Toxic people tend to be time consuming, high maintenance – they love a crisis, they make small things into dramas – “I still can’t believe how he spoke to me…!!” and they might even have a habit of losing their temper. (When did you last lose your temper?)
6. Finally, number six is that they always seem to be the victim – maybe they like the attention or they won’t admit they’re wrong, so everything is someone else’s fault, or the world’s fault – “it’s so unfair”! We ALL get good and bad luck, but beware of someone who’s luck always seems to be bad…
So, wouldn’t it be interesting to make a list of the difficult people you know and categorise them into type 1: just different to you, type 2: incompetent (bless ‘em), and type 3: the genuinely evil. This is a great start to making a plan of what to DO about them all.
onwards and upwards!