How To Deal With Difficult People
It’s important to learn how to deal with difficult people. You will run into them in most everything that you do. In my experience, the more you try to achieve, the more difficult people you will run into. The key is how you choose to deal with them.
I’m not going to go into all the reasons some people are more difficult to deal with (hint: they’re usually very unhappy themselves, due to their lack of self-esteem), as that could comprise an entire book. Instead, I’m going to give you a few steps to take and a couple of things to keep in mind that will make it easier to deal with difficult people.
My approach to dealing with difficult people “back in the day,” used to be to fight and take them on head-on, to “give them a taste of their own medicine”. It felt pretty good, usually, but produced very unpredictable results. I had to give this up, for the most part, when part of my advisory work began to involve advising family businesses regarding conflict resolution. Instead of being party to the arguments and tough situations involving difficult people, I found myself advising on how to resolve them. In short, I had to “be the adult” if I was going to do my job well.
So here are some of the insights I’ve gleaned from advising family and non-family businesses, and from learning how to deal with difficult people in my own businesses and the rest of my life.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #1
Remain calm. If you lose your temper, they “win” and you lose the ability to think and behave rationally. Nothing frustrates a difficult person more than not being able to “get to you”.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #2
Focus on the facts. No matter how heated or animated the difficult person becomes, and no matter how much they try to make the “discussion” emotional, always stay grounded in the facts. Do not “take the bait” and engage in an emotional exchange. Keep calm, per #1 and keep it to the facts, and just the facts, per this rule.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #3
Keep perspective. Sometimes when a difficult person gets you engaged in a conversation or argument about something, no matter how inane and inconsequential it is when looked at objectively, it can take over your thinking. Don’t allow yourself to become obsessed with an issue, just because a difficult person wants you to be obsessed with it. You decide.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #4
Take the high road. No matter what the difficult person does, unless it involves trying to harm you physically, do not “stoop to their level”. By taking the high road, you can maintain your self-respect and the respect of others who may be pulled into, or may be observing, the situation.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #5
Disassociate yourself. I realize that disassociating yourself from the difficult person may not always be possible, at least not in the short term. However, if it is at all possible, even if it takes you some time, you need to leave that difficult person behind. If you don’t get any indications that the person is trying to change, then why should you put up with such treatment on an ongoing basis? You’re better than that.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #6
Be very direct and assertive. While you should always try to “take the high road,” per Rule #4, it is very important to be direct and assertive when dealing with difficult people. The behavior of many difficult people, often through years of practice, can be considered roughly the equivalent of “bullying”. While it may not be physical bullying and sometimes it may come in the form of passive aggressive behavior, in the end, it is a form of bullying. The best way to deal with bullies is directly and assertively. Maintain your calm, but stand very firm. They’re used to being able to run people over and won’t know exactly what to do when you don’t let it happen. That cognitive dissonance will work to your advantage.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #7
Have empathy. Remember, as I said in the introduction to this article, often times the behavior of difficult people is based on a great deal of internal weakness, uncertainty and self-doubt. They are trying to hide the lack of self-esteem they feel every minute of every day. Keep this in mind when you are tempted to play their game. Don’t do it. Show that you have more self-respect and self-esteem than that. I have found that if you don’t respond in a confrontational manner to the initial aggressive forays of difficult people, you’ll have a better outcome over time. If instead you try to empathize and help them understand that you understand where they’re coming from, you will make a friend or at least neutralize any animosity that would otherwise be directed your way.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #8
Embrace the challenge. In learning how to deal with difficult people more effectively, think of all conflict and conflict resolution as a journey, not a destination. Just when you’ve solved one conflict or finished dealing with one difficult person, another one tends to pop up. Don’t be discouraged. Rather, understand that this is reality. If you are going to be an achiever, a “go-getter”, then you are in the domain of ego-driven behavior and “difficult people”. Get used to it. Embrace the challenge. Think of it as an opportunity to hone your conflict management skills.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #9
Become process oriented. Realize that all conflict must be processed. If it is not addressed and is instead allowed to fester, its importance becomes unnecessarily magnified and it tends to get blown out of proportion. Have the courage to address conflict and unacceptable behavior early in the game, to avoid festering. Look at it as a process, which only gets started when you are willing to identify and acknowledge issues, put them on the table, and discuss them “like adults”.
How To Deal With Difficult People Rule #10
Acknowledge imperfection. Keep in mind that no one is perfect, including you. Get over perfectionism and all the negative consequences it carries with it. Remember that people make mistakes and that is OK. Go a little easier on yourself and others. Don’t become mediocre – that’s not the point. The point is that you can still be an achiever and a go-getter without expecting that everything goes perfectly. Give yourself and others a bit of slack. Continue to have high standards, but realize that we’re only human. That’s true for the difficult people too; in fact, it’s especially true for them.
As you know, there is not one formula for how to deal with difficult people. It’s highly context-specific. Hopefully though, the ten “rules” above, which I’ve gleaned from a couple of decades of dealing with difficult people in family businesses and non-family businesses and organizations, will help you to more effectively manage your interactions with people who make things more difficult than they need to be.
What insights have you developed as you’ve learned how to deal with difficult people? Please share. I look forward to your thoughts and questions. Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.
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