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How to Deal with Difficult People: 10 Expert Techniques

How to Deal with Difficult People: 10 Expert Techniques

Doesn’t it seem like we deal with difficult people in almost all phases of our lives?

I’ve often had to deal with difficult people at work throughout my career. Sometimes it’s been my supervisor, other times it’s been my fellow associates and even other times, it’s people in other departments.

Then there are our families. I know it’s not just my family that can be extremely difficult to deal with. I’ve heard enough stories from friends to know that a lot of people’s families drive them to the brink from time to time.

And don’t even get me started on dealing with the multitudes of people we have to deal with at companies we interact with. Be it the cell phone company or the person that was supposed to fix my roof last year. I had to follow up every week for almost 4 months before they finally came and fixed something that should have been done in the first place.

Why was that so difficult?

There’s probably not an easy answer for why some people are difficult to deal with. The reasons are as varied as the people are. We are all different and sometimes, it’s shocking that we get along as well as we do.

Instead of analyzing why some people can be so difficult, let’s focus on what we can control — our reactions. Let’s look at 10 expert techniques to deal with difficult people.

1. Use Lots of Kindness

Look, I get it. When dealing with difficult people, the gut reaction is to be difficult right back. When it feels like someone is attacking you, your first thought is to defend yourself. I’ve been there and still get caught up in that when I don’t slow down and take a pause.

What I have found in almost every difficult situation is kindness goes a lot further than being difficult. When two people are being difficult with each other, the situation tends to escalate to a point where nothing will get accomplished.

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On the other hand, when you use lots of kindness with a difficult person many times, it diffuses the situation and you get more of what you want. This is one of the top techniques for dealing with difficult people.

2. Be Compassionate

Ever heard that saying about dealing with your own problems? That if you and a bunch of people shoved all your problems into a circle that you’d most likely take your own back once you saw everyone else’s? I love that.

The point is none of us really know what other people are going through. When dealing with a difficult person, it could be they are going through a very tough ordeal, or dealing with a really big problem you wouldn’t want any part of.

Many times when you show compassion to a person who is being difficult, you’ll find they respond in a positive manner. So many of us get stuck in our own heads and in our own lives that we don’t open our eyes to when others could use some kindness. Give it a try the next time you think about it.

3. Find Something in Common

Ever noticed how when you’re talking to someone for the first time, finding something in common creates a strong initial connection? We all love to feel like part of a group, like we belong. This is a great expert technique to deal with difficult people and one you should keep top of mind.

It’s always nice to find out we went to the same university as someone, it creates a kind of kinship. My daughters are both teenagers now but I used to feel a parental bond with someone when I found out my daughters went to the same school as their kids.

When we can find something in common with a difficult person, it can help make for a smoother conversation afterwards.

4. Stay Calm

Have you ever received an email from someone at work that immediately had you seeing red? This has happened to me on more occasions than I care to remember.

Working with a difficult person on a project can be infuriating. At my less rational moments, I’ve received an email from a difficult person whose only purpose seems to be making things harder and more confusing. When I haven’t paused before responding what usually happens is, I fire off an email that will only serve to make things worse.

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Typically, if I can find the patience to stay calm and wait a while before responding, the results are much better. The ability to stay calm when dealing with a difficult person will help you greatly.

5. Share Your Side

Sometimes, being able to articulate to a difficult person where you are coming from will make a big difference.

For instance, if you’ve been running into brick wall after brick wall and the difficult person is your last avenue for resolution, sometimes that makes a difference.

Some people get caught in a standard script of how to deal in certain situations or when someone asks a certain question. If you can provide some context around your specific situation, sometimes that makes a huge difference.

You could let them know you’ve trying to solve your problem for months and you’ve tried X,Y, and Z but can’t get anywhere. Sometimes this is all it takes to open the empathy gates to some extent and get some help. Give it a shot.

6. Treat with Respect

I don’t know a single person who likes to be treated like they are stupid or incompetent. When dealing with a difficult person, always remember to treat them with respect. Once you start attacking someone and acting like they are stupid you might as well be slamming the door shut to get anything done.

Treating someone disrespectfully will almost always make things worse and at a bare minimum make the other person not want to do anything to assist you. It’s the same as remembering the golden rule “treat others as you would like to be treated”. Our mothers are almost always right.

7. Ignore Them

I’m a huge proponent of not interacting with negative people in my life. Why should I? All they seem to do is provide negative input and I don’t need any of that.

By the same token, sometimes the best course of action with a difficult person is to ignore or avoid them. This of course will depend if you can ignore them.

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For instance if this is a fellow co-worker that you don’t have to work with much, it may be best to simply ignore them if you can.

Same thing with neighbors or certain people at stores or even potentially customers. Sometimes difficult customers are simply not worth dealing with. Their needs could be better served elsewhere and it’s not always a bad idea to let them know they could probably find someone else who could assist them in the way they are wanting.

8. Control What You Can

Many things in life we can control and many things we can’t. It’s always best to focus on what we can control.

When dealing with a difficult person, think about what you are able to control. Maybe there’s someone else you can deal with instead of the difficult person. They may be simply the first step in the chain.

Recently, I was attempting to work with the marketing department on a new initiative I was putting together. I was told to contact a certain person for help because that’s what had always been done. When I contacted the person, I never got a response. I sent multiple emails and left several voicemails and never heard back from this person. After getting extremely frustrated from never hearing back, I simply started asking other people in marketing.

Lo and behold, I found several people that were willing to help me with my project and with a smile. I basically worked my way around the difficult person. Control what you can.

9. Look at Yourself

Another one of the 10 expert techniques to deal with difficult people is to take a look at yourself. As in turn your focus inward. Is there something that you are doing that is making dealing with someone harder than it needs to be?

For instance in general, I am in a pretty good mood. I interact with people all day just about everyday and overall, it goes fairly smoothly.

Sometimes, I’ve got a lot of my mind and am trying to solve a problem of some sort inside my head, even when talking to other people. It has been pointed out to me that I can come across as short, abrupt, and condescending when I am spending a lot of time inside my own head and also interacting with others.

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So in this instance, my short condescending responses can make an already agitated person even more upset. Basically the way I respond is adding fuel to the fire.

Take a look at how you are interacting with difficult people to ensure you aren’t making it worse.

10. Overcome Your Fear of Conflict

One of the best techniques for dealing with difficult people is overcoming your fear of conflict. Many people are afraid of conflicts and this can lead to having difficult people walk all over them.

Dealing with a difficult person is challenging enough but if you don’t stand up for yourself and establish boundaries, it’s even worse. Just about everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Don’t allow yourself to be treated poorly by a difficult person.

I’m not advocating intentionally starting conflict. What I am advocating is not fearing conflict in the event a difficult person is treating you poorly. Too many people allow others to have control over them by not standing up for themselves when needed.

Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. In many instances, it’s good because it can allow a resolution to come to fruition: How to Turn Any Conflicts into Opportunities

The Bottom Line

Difficult people are all around us in every aspect of our lives. I’ve certainly worked with many difficult people over the years as well as in everyday interactions with people in a wide variety of settings. I’m hopeful these 10 expert techniques to deal with difficult people will help you the next time the situation arises.

Communication with other people is such a huge key to living our lives. It’s well worth learning some techniques to deal with difficult people to help us all live happier lives.

More Tips on Conflicts Management

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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