9 Quick Tips for Talking to Difficult People

Life presents you with many special challenges. One of those particularly vexing situations is developing a sense of how to confidently deal with difficult people.

“I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don’t even invite me.” ― Dave Barry

Life is sometimes a battlefield. When you have a munitions store of weapons for responding to those who test your limits, your self-confidence will ascend.

These tips will help you deal successfully with difficult people:

clarify1. Clarify what kind of connection you have with the difficult individual. Are they a close member in your family? If it’s a co-worker, you’ll be exposed to them on a fairly regular basis and you’ll likely have a consistent business relationship with them versus a sales lady in the grocery store, whose line you can avoid.

2. Stay cool. Always the best plan. Keeping a cool head in nearly every situation is wise. Refuse to allow another to stoke your fires of negative emotions.

keep cool3. Keep your distance. Even with a co-worker, you can likely manage exposing yourself to them on a somewhat limited basis. In meetings, sit at the opposite end of the table or decline to go out to lunch with the gang if the one who’s difficult is going that day.

4. Be tactful. Consider yourself a “diplomat” when you’re dealing with someone who’s being difficult. Stick to the business of the moment, state your requests or points clearly, and resolve the issue at hand. Regardless of how the other individual may try to bait you into a debate or disagreement, decline by your silence. Focus on the present item of concern.

Balance5. Avoid seeing the individual as the challenge. Instead, view the issue as the situation you’re both trying to resolve. Say something like, “I see that you’ve studied this situation thoroughly, but I believe a few other points must be included.”

6. Use “soft honesty.” Soft honesty is stating some of your real feelings using a neutral tone so they can easily listen to you. “I want to understand where you’re coming from, but it’s hard to do whenever you’re using foul language and speaking in a loud tone of voice.” Try the sandwhich technique. (Praise-Criticism-Praise)

• When someone is spewing negativity and you’re caringly using soft honesty with them, it can effectively encourage them to calm down.

surly7. Refuse to personalize it. One who is difficult likely behaves this way to everyone. It is not particular to you nor does it reflect on who you are. Make an effort to see the challenging behavior from all sides possible.

• There may be a logical reason for the difficult behavior. But if you cannot come up with one, remain emotionally strong by reminding yourself the behavior is not about you.

8. If you’re in authority over the challenging individual, establish consequences. For example, if you’re supervising the one who’s throwing out all the challenges, you can diplomatically set some consequences for their current behavior and choices.

• If someone is using foul language in a meeting or refusing to do their part of a project, you could indicate you require a fifteen-minute session with them alone after the meeting.

• During your one-on-one meeting, you can simply state your concerns about the use of foul language in meetings, indicating it’s unacceptable and cannot be tolerated without your following steps in the progressive discipline process.

• Also, take a minute to remind the individual of his job duties in the current project. Mention their importance to the project. Listen carefully and end the meeting with concise expectations. Ensure you follow your particular employer’s guidelines for progressive discipline.

use humour9. Employ humor when appropriate. Sometimes, the most unexpected response to challenging behavior is a humorous quip. Use humor when you believe it can bring down the individual’s volume of hostility.

• Perhaps if you’re speaking alone with someone who’s agitated and disagreeable, you can toss out a funny remark.

• To illustrate, after they go on a rant, you say something like, “So, your day’s pretty good so far?”

Although you’re unlikely to totally change the difficult behaviors of others, you can maintain beneficial thinking and actions in your exchanges.

“Very often in everyday life one sees that by losing one’s temper with someone who has already lost his, one does not gain anything but only sets out upon the path of stupidity. He who has enough self-control to stand firm at the moment when the other person is in a temper, wins in the end. It is not he who has spoken a hundred words aloud who has won; it is he who has perhaps spoken only one word.” ― Hazrat Inayat Khan

Employ these strategies to successfully deal with those who try you. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Photo credits, top to bottom: Alexandra E Rust/Flickr, Alan Turkus, Javier Morales, Mike Lewinski, torbakhopper HE DEAD