Difficult people who aren’t able to access their own sense of humor can zap the joy out of any job. But when one or more members of team has underdeveloped EQ (self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation or social skills), the ripple effect can cause major organizational issues.

Recently I was reminded of the diminishing returns when someone the the team is temperamental, closed off, or even toxic. What to do in these situations? First, recognize that difficult people happen no matter where you work. So, if you’re facing a challenging personality that you have to engage with, the most productive approach is to see it as an invitation to grow your own skills.

Here are six ways you can turn those lemons into your personal lemonade.

1. Step up your communications skills.

Get more curious about the other person’s perspective. Is there something you could learn that might help turn the situation around? Listen deeply to them and ask clarifying questions. Focus on understanding the other person more than on proving your own point.

2. Look for a healthy outcome.

The toxic person’s behavior is actually telling you something about them. It’s a call for help. It’s a call for compassion. It might even be a call for you to learn how to speak up and handle confrontation better. What is here for you? What is one thing you can do to be a part of the solution?

3. Don’t make it personal.

Notice your own power to take anything and everything someone else says as neutral information. There is no need to add any other meaning to it, even if it’s delivered by someone who is coming from negativity at the time. Feedback is information. Once received, see if there’s something in the information that is useful to you. If so, let that inform your next steps. If not, let the negativity go and practice the skill of accepting others as they are.

4. Practice your EQ.

Human beings are the only mammals who have the brain capacity to pause between stimulus and response. Using the power of that gap to choose consciously is life-changing in terms of improved relationships, better communications, higher levels of wellbeing and work/life satisfaction–and, EQ can now can be tied back to higher financial performance in organizations that practice it (Korn Ferry’s report “A Better Return On Self-Awareness”). When someone else is off balance, you can choose to remain in balance. That’s were real power is realized, real leadership is demonstrated, real solutions live, and real success is experienced.

5. Conduct an experiment.

Rather than rolling your eyes and judging the other person, how about experimenting with a skill that can build your career? When challenged, ask yourself: what leadership characteristic could I embrace that would be most helpful here? Is it open mindedness, creativity, listening, decisiveness, or another trait I see in successful people?

6. Take action.

Skill-building with coaching and training can keep organizations and teams in top shape, but chronically negative people eventually wear people out and take a toll that effects the health of the entire system. The result is good people leave and that turnover is costly on many levels. Ending the work relationship by letting someone go is never something we want to do, but it might be something that’s needed if other approaches aren’t working. Use discernment and courage. If the problem persists, take action to create a culture worthy of the best employees.



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