Today’s VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog is by guest blogger, Karen Schuder, Ed.D., M.Div., M.A.M. Here, she talks about how to deal with difficult people. As veterinary professionals, we often deal with this in the veterinary clinic work setting (e.g., your colleagues, staff, pet owners, etc.).

How to deal with difficult people
Karen Schuder, Ed.D., M.Div., M.A.M.

We each have a unique story and perspective so we may deal with challenges and conflict differently. This can make veterinary work difficult especially when there is a lot of emotion in a situation and/or stress in the work environment. Working with aggressive animals can be trying, but in reality dealing with difficult coworkers, clients, or colleagues is often the most draining. Fortunately there are perspectives and skills that can help us work more effectively with difficult people while promoting personal integrity.

A helpful place to start is by making a distinction between people and behaviors. While we may tend to characterize people as being difficult, it is their behaviors that make life challenging. There are different reasons why people act in unhelpful ways and your job is not to analyze their psychological health, but to help yourself deal with difficult behaviors in constructive ways.

Some general tips for dealing with difficult behaviors include:

1) Define difficult behaviors: Separate behaviors from the person so you can address the behaviors you find challenging. If there are particular behaviors you find really irritating it is good to know what they are, why they affect you, and how you can deal with them effectively. Processing your reactions can help you establish a protocol for dealing with difficult behaviors in the future.

2) Remain as non-anxious as possible: Doing this helps decrease anxiety so you and others can think more rationally rather than over-react emotionally. Have a word or action you can silently say or do to calm yourself when tensions rise. A simple example is taking a deep breath while silently saying a calming word. If a situation becomes too heated taking a short break or enlisting the help of someone who can remain non-anxious may be more beneficial than trying to storm through the encounter.

3) Be intentional about who you are: This means doing the introspective work of understanding personal values, goals, purpose, and beliefs. Writing these things down can be very grounding and provide guidance for dealing with other people.

4) Operate from a foundation of respect: Working with a strong sense of respect for others and yourself is vital to fostering healthy communication that includes listening as much as speaking. Confidence and humility are powerful virtues when dealing with people in difficult situations.

5) Regulate your own emotional reactivity: We do not need to absorb other people’s emotions or be victims of our own emotions. While this may seem like common sense, it is easy to forget. Reminding ourselves other individuals have challenges in their lives we do not know about can help us become more tolerant and give us the strength to calmly hold people accountable for unacceptable behaviors.

6) Learn more about human behaviors and social processes: Keeping up on the latest medical technologies is important, but so is continued growth on interpersonal skills. Such learning can increase tolerance and the ability to deal with challenges.

7) Keep perspective: Life is about more than work, and work is about more than money. Providing care for animals and people is valiant work that can be overwhelming. Know and use the resources available to promote a healthy perspective. Make sure you do things outside of work to nourish yourself, promote joy, and maintain a perspective greater than your career.

Dealing with people can be hard, but with some effort and intentionality we can deal with challenges in positive ways so we do not become one of those “difficult people.”

About Karen Schuder, Ed.D., M.Div., M.A.M.
An avid animal and people lover, Karen has extensive experience leading organizations, as well as coaching and training leaders to help them function at their best. She and her husband, Steve Schuder D.V.M., own a veterinary hospital in Northern Minnesota. Her experience is supplemented by doctoral work looking at leadership, resilience, ethics, management, and organizational development. She is a licensed compassion fatigue professional who has spent most of her life in a variety of caregiving roles helping people deal with traumatic experiences. Her workshops include active learning and participation while providing practical strategies to promote personal growth and career sustainability. More information can be found at her website