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11 Tips on How to Deal with Difficult People

Stephanie Bachman on Mar 19, 2018 1:08:00 PM

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"They muddy the water to make it seem deep."—Friedrich Nietzsche

Last summer I took my 10-week-old Labrador retriever to my sister’s middle school track meet.

While I was waiting for the runners to come around, a woman bee-lined up to me and told me, in a none-too-kind way, that no dogs were allowed on school property.

Yes, that one was on me. I accidentally overlooked the sign. As I explained that and told her I would leave, she then must’ve been considered that wasn’t enough and threatened to put my picture on Facebook in a way to shame me.

To this day, I wish I would’ve known how to respond.

I consider knowing how to deal with difficult people a skill that is highly valuable, right up there alongside knowing how to change a flat tire. Both require high levels of patience, level-headedness, and being aware that there could be a few loose screws that you’ll have to deal with during the process.

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Yet having the skills to manage difficult people can help rescue a situation from going haywire, especially when that situation requires a level-head. Whether it be co-workers, family members, friends, or strangers, here are 11 ways to keep the situation from boiling over:

Be Calm: Sometimes when an emotional situation flares up, it helps to remember that no one gets far when yelling is involved. If you remain calm, not only will you listen better and convey your thoughts in a clear manner, but you could also calm the person you're dealing with, too. 

Stand in their Shoes: Look at the situation through their eyes. It helps you not just listen better, but also understand where they could be coming from.

Be Respectful: No one likes wadding through a gutter of name-calling and nasty words. The best you can do in this situation is to remain respectful and dignified. If the other person is speaking slimy words, at least you can walk away knowing you didn’t fall to their level.

Be Assertive: Being respectful doesn’t mean allowing people to put you down unfairly or walk all over you. You have the right to ask the person to stop verbally attacking you.

Don’t Take It Personally, But Do Take It Seriously: Sometimes the difficult person is upset over something personal and is channeling their anger onto you. In this situation, try and find the issue that isn’t being said, and see if you can talk to this person about it.

Let the Person Vent: Don’t say “it’s okay” or “I understand”. In some cases, the person is angry enough that these words are just gas thrown on the fire. 

Apologize: This can be tough to do, but just by admitting you were in the wrong can help calm the person. You can go a step further and explain how you intend to fix whatever they’re angry about.

Understand that Each Person and Situation is Different: What works for one person may not work for another, and when it comes to irrationally angry people, sometimes nothing can be done to de-escalate the situation. In this case, you can walk away, direct the person to a work superior, or be firm with them and tell them that the conversation is over.

Stay Save: If something doesn’t seem right and your gut is telling you something is wrong, listen to it. You have a right to defend yourself.

Take a Breather: Dealing with difficult people is stressful, so make sure you do something that will help shake off the negative energy.

RecollectOnce the issue has blown over and you can think rationally, consider what you could have worked on to help the difficult individual remain calm. You can learn from the incident so that the next time someone walks up to you looking for a fight, you can effectively diffuse a difficult situation from occurring.

Want to learn more about how to manage challenging individuals? On March 26, 2018, we will be offering a course called Dealing with Difficult People. Visit cetrain.isu.edu or call (208) 282-3372 to enroll.

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