Dealing with difficult people
The vast majority of people will do anything to avoid conflict in both their professional or personal lives.
However, there comes a time when it falls to you to deal with a difficult co-worker, employee, supplier or customer. Approached the right way, dealing with a “difficult” person can be quite rewarding. Chances are nobody wants to deal with them in the first place so you could really help make a positive change in the workplace.
The following are some tips to help you:
1. Change their title
When you think of the person in question, refer to them as “challenging” and not “difficult”. You will find that very few people are deliberately poor communicators. Have faith in your own communicative skills and realize that not everybody will be easy to deal with.
2. Take a step back
It’s easy to make quick assumptions that a person is “difficult” without finding out the reasons why. An example could be a customer calling to complain loudly a delivery is one-day late. This seems slightly irrational but further examination could reveal they are waiting for a replacement for a defective product.
3. Practice Your Response
If can step back from the situation, try to practice your response and put yourself in the other person’s position. Think about their likely responses and plan for them.
4. Try for an agreement
It will help your situation if you are able to agree with the other person. You might not agree with their opinion of version of events, but you should be able to agree that a problem exists. Once you agree upon something it helps build rapport and provides a base for solving the overall problem. Use positive terms and let them know what you are able to do rather than cannot do.
5. Ask for and explore alternatives
Never enter a situation thinking there is no hope for a resolution. Don’t be afraid of asking “What is it you would like to see happen?” or “Tell me, what can I do to improve the situation?” Try to have a few alternative solutions planned. Even if the person rejects them, it provides a starting point.
6. Speak in Private
If you are dealing with a challenging person might be better to deal with them in private. The very fact
a problem is being discussed in front of others could be one of the reasons that make them hard to deal
with in the first place. Some people have a completely different personality when you get them on their
7. Use “I” Phrases
Using I phrases allows people to try and understand the impact of their actions on you. For example, “You should…”, “You must…” “You could…” will likely make them defensive. Better alternatives are: “I feel you should…”, “I think it’s better if you…”and are more likely to help reach an agreement.
8. Don’t Take Things Personally
It might be difficult, but try not to take the conflict personally. Try to separate yourself from the issue. More often than not, there are other factors (such as problems at home, previous bad experiences, and
sometimes office politics!) affecting the situation.
9. Take a Breather
If tempers are becoming frayed suggest taking a breather for 20 minutes or so in order to collect thoughts and re-approach the problem with a cooler head.
10. Check for Understanding
Always ask questions of the other person, listen to their response, (briefly) paraphrase their answers and check for understanding. If you engage the other person it is far more likely you can both work out a successful resolution to the problem or conflict. It is amazing how many problems in the workplace are caused by simple misunderstandings.