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How to Deal with Difficult People

You will probably have to deal with difficult people. You may even be a difficult person yourself. If you are the kind of person who has a lot of conflicts with co-workers and authority figures, you should cherish the independence this implies, but work on your interpersonal skills without sacrificing your intelligence or principles.

This can be very disturbing to some programmers who have no experience in this sort of thing and whose previous life experience has taught them patterns of behaviour that are not useful in the workplace. Difficult people are often accustomed to disagreement and they are less affected by social pressure to compromise than others. The key is to respect them appropriately, which is more than you will want to but not as much as they might want.

Programmers have to work together as a team. When disagreement arises, it must be resolved somehow, it cannot be ducked for long. Difficult people are often extremely intelligent and have something very useful to say. It is critical that you listen to and understand the difficult person without prejudice caused by the person. A failure to communicate is often the basis of disagreement but it can sometimes be removed with great patience. Try to keep this communication cool and cordial, and don't accept any baits for greater conflict that may be offered. After a reasonable period of trying to understand, make a decision.

Don't let a bully force you to do something you don't agree with. If you are the leader, do what you think is best. Don't make a decision for any personal reasons, and be prepared to explain the reasons for your decision. If you are a team-mate with a difficult person, don't let the leader's decision have any personal impact. If it doesn't go your way, do it the other way whole-heartedly.

Difficult people do change and improve. I've seen it with my own eyes, but it is very rare. However, everyone has transitory ups and downs.

One of the challenges that every programmer but especially leaders face is keeping the difficult person fully engaged. They are more prone to duck work and resist passively than others.

Next Intermediate skills