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Dealing With Difficult People The Essential "How Tos"
By Pamela Jett Aal   Printer Friendly Version

They come in many forms, styles, ages and genders. But everyone at sometime or another deals with a difficult person. Whether it is the whiner, the exploder, or the guilt-trip sender, a few basic principles and tools can make working with them less stressful and more productive and profitable.

Difficult people are difficult because it is working for them. Their wants, needs and desires are being met through their difficult behavior. Whether that behavior is yelling, demeaning comments, a guilt trip, the silent treatment or taking cheap shots. Difficult people are often fully aware they are being difficult. They continue because there is a reward in the end result.

You cannot make the difficult person not be difficult. Human beings are funny. They resist our very best efforts to fix them because they do not think they are broken. The best thing we can do with difficult people is to train them that while their difficult behavior may work with everybody else to get them what they want. It does not produce the desired result in us.

Examine your own responses to the difficult person and behavior. There is a tried and true management principle that "what gets rewarded gets repeated". If you are not communicating effectively with a difficult person, ask yourself "how am I rewarding the behavior?" If a colleague lays a guilt trip on you, do you allow it to work? If the answer is yes, it is guaranteed they will use a guilt trip on you as often as possible.

In the training sessions and workshops I conduct I am frequently asked, "how can I get my difficult colleague to stop being difficult?" My response is invariably the same, "you can't".

The key to communicating effectively with difficult people lies in analyzing what we have been doing in the past that rewards or reinforces the difficult person's behavior. Then, stop rewarding them.

Eleanor Roosevelt put is best when she admonished us to train other people how to treat us. Difficult people will continue to push our buttons as long as we continue to reward them by letting it work.

Do the unexpected. Because difficult people are so accustomed to their difficult behavior working, one of the most effective techniques in dealing with them is to do something different from what they anticipate.

For example, if you deal with a bully, exploder or yeller, they often expect that you will have an equally extreme emotional response. Those responses typically range from yelling back to tears.

Throw them off track. When they yell, remain calm. Don't forget to breathe (adults tend to forget to breathe when under stress). Lower your voice and calmly restate your position, request or idea.

Develop a thicker skin. In other words, build your self-esteem or self-confidence. Self-confident people are not as concerned with what other people think about them. They will not instinctively let the difficult person have their way in hopes of being liked.

Additionally, people with high self-esteem are less likely to respond to the difficult person by being a difficult person. There is less of a temptation to make yourself feel better by trying to make others feel worse.

Get a "wrinkly brain". Scientists tell us that every time we learn something we develop a new pathway or "wrinkle" in our brains.

When it comes to difficult people, there is no better tool than knowledge. Attend workshops, read books, listen to tapes or CDs. Develop as many skills as you can.

One of the best skills you can develop are language patterns. Language patterns are templates or guidelines that can assist you in saying what you need to say, even when your heart is pounding and your nerves are frayed.

A favorite among my seminar attendees is the "feel, felt, found" method. This is a great template for dealing with difficult people who try to foist their opinions on you.

Instead of saying, "I think you are wrong" (which only breeds defensiveness and often gears the difficult person up for battle), try responding with:

I understand how you can feel that way. I am sure others have felt that way too. However, I have found ______.

It takes time to train difficult people that their difficult behaviour may work with everyone else, but not with you. However, with a few basic principles and easy-to -use tools, your effort will be rewarded with better relationships, a reputation that says you are not easily rattled (read more promotable) and greater results and respect in the workplace.

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