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.
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.
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.
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.
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 About Dealing with Conflicts
- Conflict Management Styles for Effective Communication at Work
- 13 Ways Emotionally Intelligent People Deal with Difficult People
- 11 Tips on How to Resolve (Almost) Any Conflict in the Workplace
Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com