We all must deal with difficult people from time to time, whether in work or in our personal life. And while it may be tempting to hide, avoiding a situation can escalate it. Knowing how to interact with difficult people is a valuable skill in work and in life.
When dealing with difficult people, remember that we can’t change others. We have no control over someone else’s behavior, but we do control our own. Approaching a difficult situation with self-control is the most important strategy to learn.
When faced with a difficult situation, the first action must be to listen. Seek to understand why the person is acting this way. There may be meaning inside this behavior which they are struggling to articulate. What does this person need? While it might be tempting to label them as aggressive or demanding, avoid doing this. We all see the world through our own lens. In another person, you might see the same “aggressive behavior” as passionate. Don’t label a behavior, ask questions instead.
Everyone wants understanding from others. But rather than offering platitudes, ask for clarification. When someone knows that they are being heard, they are more likely to respond in a calm manner. Don’t argue, try to convince them of your point of view or act in a defensive way. Use inclusive, not accusatory language. Give recognition and you are more likely to engage the other person in a useful conversation.
Particularly in a workplace setting, personal space is paramount for feeling safe. If you are feeling under attack, take a deep breath and a step back. Attempting to calm someone by using physical touch can also be misconstrued. Keep a distance to avoid coming across as aggressive and watch your body language. Crossing your arms or pointing your finger will only look threatening.
* These tips might help towards a resolution, but you must always think of your own safety. If you feel that the situation is getting physically dangerous, remove yourself immediately.
Understanding how to deal with difficult people is a useful skill. We can’t avoid difficult people, but we can manage our own behavior. By doing so we can make all our interactions more successful and effective.