Working with Difficult People

difficult peopleA ‘difficult person’ might oppose ideas, be irritating, appear negative or simply not like other people. When it comes to communicating and working with a person who is particularly difficult, we often resort to one of three assumptions:

  • the person is ignorant
  • the person is stupid
  • the person is evil and simply trying to be infuriating

But typically, no one wakes up in the morning thinking ‘I really want to irritate everyone I meet today’ and goes about their day with this goal in mind. The reality is difficult people are often not being difficult on purpose.

A key driving factor behind relationship breakdowns is perception; one party either has a different view of the situation or wants something different. Therefore, when a person is being ‘difficult’ the first thing to try and do is to look at the situation from their perspective. If you can get your head around how the other person views the situation, this will help guide your approach when communicating with the person.

It is also important to be strategic. Although people cannot be controlled, they can be influenced so it is essential that you keep in mind what it is that you want to achieve. The following six tactics are recommended to help manage a difficult person:

  • start with what you agree on
  • consider what you can learn; what might you be missing?
  • outline what you want from the conversation
  • stick to topic
  • wait to respond
  • silence is golden; do not just talk to fill space

Actively trying to manage challenging people, taking into account their views and position, can help alleviate or prevent moments of tension and misunderstanding. With a bit of work, difficult people can become more bearable and the outcome for you can be improved.

Conflict can often trigger defensive emotions but it is important to react in a manner that does not separate you from the situation. Self-management techniques such as focusing on breathing, listening attentively, preparing for bad and unexpected outcomes, and stepping back to adopt a long-term view can help you react in a constructive way.

People who irritate us can often show us something about ourselves. Taking the time to consider our own behaviour in strained situations may reveal personal deficits that contributed to the difficulties. Delving into the root cause of the frustration can help to resolve the problem. In fact, you yourself may be the difficult one.

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