Dealing with Difficult People, or Difficult people 'R Us
Copyright Suzanne Sherkin 2008 - reprinted with permission.
OK, hands up if you've ever had to put up with people you can't stand, or people who give you grief, or people who are just plain difficult to deal with. I think it's safe to say that all of us - at some point or another - have had to deal with difficult people.
It makes sense, really, that we often meet people who are not like us - people with different points of views, different values, different ways of behaving, and different motivations than us. Different often gets translated to difficult, and that makes us run for our comfort zone. It's one of the stubborn traits of human nature that we want things to be comfortable and familiar to us, so we spend a good deal of our energy arranging our world so that it's easy for us. Psychology 101 - similarity is comfort.
Here's the tough question: In a conflict, is the other person being difficult or are you being difficult? Who's triggering whose difficult behaviour? It's not about blame, or who's right and who's wrong - it's about getting to the heart of the matter and getting to a place of resolution, or civility at the very least.
When you look at any situation from the larger perspective - not just through the lens of your own reality - you realize that both people are reacting to each other. So, the first step in dealing with difficult people is to tune into what's really happening in the exchange. The key message here is to look at your own behaviour and be really honest with yourself about what you're communicating. Ask yourself if the difficult behaviour you're seeing in another person is a reflection of you in any way. Not an easy perspective to take, but potentially revealing.
So, let's say you've looked at yourself, come clean about your own behaviour and concluded that the issue really does lie with the other person. Now what? How do you proceed from there? How do you carry on in your workplace or your personal relationship with a person who drives you crazy? Perhaps they make you feel angry, or defensive, or shut down, or depressed. So what do you do?
Dealing with difficult people is not a simple matter. It takes clarity, confidence and skillful communication. It takes knowing how to conduct a conversation that leads to success - one that avoids conflict and maintains good relationships.
3 Steps to Handling Difficult People
1. First, seek to understand why they're being difficult. Are they trying to gain attention or recognition, assert their power, cover-up their own insecurities? Your conclusions about this will affect how you handle the situation.
2. Next, plan the conversation. Think about how you want the conversation to go, and how you want it to end. The more tuned in you are to your own intentions and your own communication style, the more successful it will be.
3. Focus on listening more than speaking. This is definitely not easy, but the one who listens more has control of the conversation. While they're railing and emoting, you can keep your composure and direct the conversation out of conflict and into success.
No matter how difficult the situation is or how uncomfortable you feel with another person, you have the ability to determine how it all plays out. Get good at communication skills and create the success you want - in every situation.
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