Dealing with difficult people is an undesirable experience. It can be stressful and draining. But there are ways to handle them, and there are ways you can train yourself with effective communication skills to improve in confrontations.
First, it’s best to be pragmatic about the situation. Some people are difficult for a myriad of reasons, and some of those reasons might reach back a week or month or even years. Be prepared for a process of change in those cases.
But there are others who are difficult for reasons that fall more along behavioral patterns rather than engrained methodology or character issues.
Some people don’t necessarily know they are being difficult. So by properly addressing the issue with them, they have an opportunity to improve their behavior—enough to make your experience with them more enjoyable or at least tolerable.
Here are a few principles that can help you with a range of difficult people:
- Stay calm.
- Do not return aggression.
- Do not take the attack personally; the aggressor is more likely to be venting on you rather than actually aiming to hurt you. (Of course, there are exceptions.)
- Do not be intimidated.
- Be mindful of your body language; crossed arms and frowns do not promote a safe environment.
- The rule of thumb is to kill them with kindness, but be firm.
Two Types of Difficult People
There are two types of difficult people that require a more vigilant approach: the windbag and the bully.
- The Windbag – The windbag might not be methodical about his non-stop jabbering, and they might not realize they’re annoying, but they needs to understand that they slows your productivity down, and that his jack hammer conversational skills induce headaches.
Don’t wait for a break in the conversation with him; it might never happen. You have to interrupt him. So do it by addressing his name, this should pause him long enough for you to make your point. Be certain to end what you have to say in a downward inflection. This indicates the conversation is over.
- The Bully – The bully is a little more tricky. They are trying to rattle you, so you have to stand up to them. Literally. Meet him at eye level. Stand square. This prepares you to talk, as in this stance you are his equal in body language; it is psychologically important for both of you.
Be sure not to use “I” messages when confronting him. “I was hurt by what you said” is not effective for them to hear because they don’t care. Instead use “you” messages. “You cannot talk to me that way” is much more effective because it puts the onus on him and it tells him you will not tolerate his behavior.
While keeping the above principles in mind, and also being conscious of the different types of difficult people, the best way to deal with them is by being organized and prepared. This can help those who are timid or who find confrontation to be a nerve-wracking experience.
Preparing For A Confrontation
The communications firm Tips for Success outlines some key points when preparing for a confrontation.
- Face the person yourself. Only bring someone in if the problem persists
- Write down the problem, and write down the goals of the confrontation. Be specific. Writing these things down can help you visualize the encounter and reduce stress.
- What kind of relationship is it and what do you want it to be? Friend? Boss? Co-worker?
- Write a plan or list of points that support your reasons and goals, then prioritize them.
- Write down anticipated rebuttals and reactions of your co-worker.
- Organize your notes. Gather supportive documents to illustrate your point.
- Arrange the meeting in a safe place where you cannot be disturbed.
- Start the meeting. It is important to keep eye contact during the meeting, and speak with confidence. It is also important to listen and acknowledge the other’s point of view. Be clear about what the problem is and what you think the solution may be. Present your case and hold to your position.
This seems like a lot of things to remember, but with practice your communication skills will streamline, and you can become proficient, thereby reducing the discomfort of working with a difficult person. The payoff can be mutual respect and peaceful professional conditions.