Do you work or live with a difficult person? Is there someone you need to have a difficult conversation with? Do you want to improve a relationship you have with someone at work or at home? 

It may not seem like it, but it can be done. First, you need to recognize that it’s all about communication or the lack of it. 

Most difficult people are the way they are because the issues or behaviors that make them “difficult” aren’t being addressed.

Do it Sooner

The key to dealing with difficult people is to communicate about the issues (not the person or personality) sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more difficult they may become, and the harder it is to improve the situation.

Think of a difficult person and describe the reason they appear “difficult”.  Is it an irritating behavior? Are they are rude, bossy, or say hurtful things? What, specifically, is the issue? 

Next, write down your answers to the following questions. Be honest with yourself:

  • What is the issue, and, can I articulate that in a calm and rational way? 
  • What results am I trying to achieve?
  • Why?
  • What relationship do I want to have with this person?
  • And, most important,  Do I need to have a conversation about this?

Once you’ve decided to deal with the difficult person and have that difficult conversation, you need to commit to doing it well. Practice these following steps:

1. Be Courageous

Most of us avoid conflict – it’s way out of our comfort zone. This is a time to face your fears and push through in order to have the tough conversation you need to have. You may not do it perfectly, but it’s important to do it anyway. The hardest part is this – simply getting started. A few ways to get started are to

  • Write down the points you want to make.
  • Practice with someone you trust until you’re comfortable with what you need to say.

2. Focus on the issue, not the person.

Be gentle on the person and tough on the issue that’s causing the problem you’re trying to address. Don’t blame the person, but do your best to describe the actions or behavior that are causing the conflict or stress between the two of you.

  • Begin with: “Can we talk?” or “Can I give you some feedback?”
  • Share something positive first, such as, “I appreciate the hard work you’ve been putting into this project . . . “
  • Focus on the issue: “I’m sensing there are some issues between the two of us that we need to talk through” or “I’m feeling that I might have done something to upset you.”

3. Be specific and descriptive.

Describe what is specifically happening including your thoughts, feelings, and wants. What are you thinking and/or feeling? What do you want to the result of this conversation to be? Pause and check for understanding. Say something like, “Do you understand what I mean?” and “Did I understand you correctly?”

4. Listen.

Listen to their side of the story using your best listening skills. Do your absolute best to conduct yourself in a calm and respectful manner regardless of how the other person responds. 

5. Thank them. 

Regardless of how the conversation goes, thank them for listening and for their time. 

6. Make an agreement for what happens next. 

  • What is the outcome?
  • What did you agree to?
  • When will you meet to check in again?

Then, congratulate yourself for taking a proactive approach to handling that difficult person in your life.

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Join my free Facebook Group, Confident Communication for Women. This group is for women who want to build confidence in their communication skills as well as support and network with other amazing women. 

Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.