Difficult People ...by Stan Hyman, PhD, LCSW
Most people have had the unpleasant experience of being in the company of a difficult person. You may not have expected it or wanted it but there you were.
You may be one of many unfortunates, however, who are in a position of being stuck or forced to deal on a regular basis with someone who is difficult or even impossible.
You may work with him; perhaps he is a client; he could be a boss; a relative; or, heavens forbid, your spouse!
Whatever the circumstances here are 7 tips on how to make it work.
1) Depersonalize the situation. Do not take personally anything negative or hostile that is being said to you. That would be a mistake. A difficult person is usually difficult with everyone, it is his habit. You need to get emotional distance so that you can control the conversation.
2) Do not “fight”. The idea here is to use the power of the other to your advantage. I call it conversational Aikido. Aikido is a martial art form in which the force of your opponent gets used against him. The difficult person is more likely than you to be accustomed to heated arguments. He's got more experience. Stay cool so that you remain in control of your emotions. (See my Newsletter: How To Handle a Crisis).
3) Wait! Let the difficult person talk and rant if necessary until such time as he runs out of energy. Your objective is to remain calm and clear headed so that you can make your points. Be direct and cordial while calling him by name.
4) Listen for common ground. Although you may be dealing with an impossible person, there is still a possibility that there is some common ground on which to agree. If so, you may be able to find a way to a mutual understanding. Do not let his difficult style cloud your thinking…stay alert and listen.
5) Be assertive but not aggressive. This is not meant to be a lesson in losing your integrity. You need to feel that you are able to express your views but not in a way that invites the perception of a win- lose contest. Learn to walk the fine line of the negotiator whereby your tone and attitude convey your willingness to work through something without anger or hostility. (See my Newsletter: Negotiate With Your Partner).
6) Be prepared. Try to predict the types of problems that you will likely be facing the next time you have to talk with the difficult person. Think things through and formulate some ideas about how you want to handle that conversation.
7) Contain and manage. The presumption we are making here is that you are stuck with this challenge. You must, therefore, make the best of it. Consider this the long view of what needs to be done. The idea that your interaction with this difficult person will continue over time requires that you improve your management skills. You need to think about damage reduction and control each time you have contact with this individual. Your goal is to minimize the damage and contain the fallout.