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Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives. We may be “stuck” with a difficult individual at work or home. It’s easy to let a challenging person affect us and ruin our day. What are some of the keys to empowering yourself in such situations? Whether it's dealing with a difficult boss, dealing with a difficult co-worker or a difficult client, use these simple tips for how to deal with gossips, whiners, know-it-alls, exploders and more. Keep in mind that these are general rules of thumb, and not all of the tips may apply to your particular situation.
1. Listen more effectively.
Listening is the number one tool in communication, especially when dealing with difficult people. Strive for greater communication. Often, it’s not that there isn’t enough communication, it’s that its bad communication. So work on improving your conflict resolution skills. If you are a manager, consider training everyone in conflict resolution. One of the main reasons teams fail is because some of the people on the team don’t like each other, or aren’t skilled in handling conflict. Invest in communication skills courses and conflict resolution skills courses to improve the part you can control – you.
2. Step back and analyse the situation from an outside perspective.
When we are less emotionally involved and “cool our jets,” the answers come for how to effectively deal with them. Especially in dealing with a difficult boss, dealing with a difficult co-worker, or spouse.
3. Ignoring often doesn’t work.
The tension becomes so thick you can cut it with a knife so choose your battles. There are times when you have to “let it go.” Know when to speak up and when to pick your battles.
4. Criticise in person, praise in public.
Never publicly criticise someone as the difficult person will only become more upset. Maintain respect for them – even if you disagree or dislike them. At least acknowledge what they say. Think about how you would want to be treated.
5. Seek first to understand then to be understood, especially when dealing with difficult people.
People often won’t care what you think unless they think you care. At least attempt to see it from their perspective. Maintain high expectations and standards if you are managing this employee. If you don’t do this, you will be seen as enabling their unacceptable behaviour.
6. Watch your tone of voice.
Avoid an autocratic or sarcastic tone. The Latin root of the word “sarcasm” is “sarco” meaning tearing of the flesh! In face-to-face communication, words account for 7% of what people notice and believe about you. Tone is 38% and body language 55%. So a full 93% is tone and body language. Non-verbally position yourself at their eye level. For example, if they are sitting when you talk with them, sit. If they are standing, stand. Converse at their level.
7. Give sincere positive reinforcement when they do something well.
Show genuine appreciation. Often, difficult people are difficult because they feel unappreciated. Attempt to understand what’s driving that difficult behaviour. Get at the root cause, even if you only try to figure it out in your own mind. Event + Reaction = Outcome. You can’t control the event, but you can control the outcome based on how you react or respond. Be careful how you respond.
Accept, change or reject.
Know that ultimately you only have three choices. 1) Accept the situation knowing it won’t change. 2) Attempt to change your relationship with them by changing how you react. 3) If it’s really affecting your well being, it may be time to “reject” the situation and move on.
When you have even a single difficult team member, it’s very important that you take care of this situation as soon as possible and not let it aggravate to the extent that it affects the proceedings of the project or the work in your team. This can often affect the other team members and throw them off course from their jobs.