Thursday, April 5, 2012

How to Deal With Difficult People

In an earlier blog post I discussed the 4-step approach to assertively request a change in behavior. As effective as this strategy may be, there are people - bosses, co-workers, mothers-in-law - where the strategy simply won't work. In these cases you will need to bring out emergency Step 5.

This final step of the process should only be used in extreme cases where earlier attempts at following the 4-step positive and assertive approach did not generate the results you desired. At this point you need to offer either rewards or consequences. Which of these two strategies you employ will depend on the situation and the person with whom you are dealing. Continuing on with the example from the earlier blog post, here are some examples of how you could offer the "office gossip" either a reward or consequence.

Reward: "If you are able to make the changes we discussed and are willing to stop talking about our co-workers when they are not part of the conversation, I know that our work environment will be so much more pleasant and productive."

Consequence: "If you are not willing to make the changes we discussed and are unwilling to stop talking about our co-workers when they are not part of the conversation, then I will be forced to take further action." At this point you need to clearly state the consequence, not as a threat, simply as a statement of fact, such as "I will have to inform Sarah, our supervisor, that our team dynamic is being compromised by your behavior."

It is imperative that you not make these promises lightly. Whether you are offering a reward or a consequence, if there is no behavior change and you do not follow through, all your efforts will be for naught.

Here are a few more ideas to help you deal with difficult people in all situations:

  • Never approach a difficult person or situation when you are angry, upset, or stressed out. Walk away from a situation so that you can calm down, think about your approach, and speak in a planned manner.
  • Try to see the situation from the other person's point of view. An assertive communicator goes into a situation or conversation believing that everyone intention's are good and trying to see the other person's side of the story.
  • Treat the other person with respect. Never talk down to them or act as though they are incompetent or unworthy of your respect - no matter how you may feel inside. This will only escalate the problem.
  • Know when to take your problem to the next level. If you have exhausted all your assertive communication options and the problem is not resolved, take the problem to your manager. However, make sure you have tried your best to handle the problem on your own first.

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