Is there a difficult person in your life, either at work or at home? If so, you are not alone. Difficult people can pretty much be found anywhere.
You may have one in your neighborhood, your family, at work, as a customer, or maybe even in your own household (if you have a teenager, you know what I mean).
I’m talking about someone that, at the moment anyway, you simply don’t like. Something about them just pushes your buttons. Maybe it’s the way they refuse to look you in the eye. Maybe they are acting a lot like your demanding, mean principal from middle school who made you miss the bus that one time. Maybe they’re complainers or whiners and they think it’s your job to make them happy. Maybe they like to yell, and have no idea how to talk with you in a calm manner.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains – the last thing you want to do is deal with any of them. I call these people “difficult personalities” or “DIFs” (a code sometimes used for identifying difficult customers in a database system).
How do you communicate with a DIF without getting upset, frustrated, or going a little crazy?
Here are some strategies you can use that will help you deal with your very own DIF.
1. Prepare for the Interaction.
Take a second to breathe in and think positively about the upcoming conversation.
2. Initiate Rapport.
Use their name and make eye contact. Work to make a connection. Be pleasant.
3. Actively Listen.
If you need help with this, check out my blog archives on listening skills. There are several posts that will help.
4. Clarify Your Understanding.
Say something like: “Let me make sure I understand what you are trying to tell me,” or “Help me understand what you want me to do.”
5. Kill Them with Kindness (figuratively speaking, of course).
Don’t stoop to their level, get defensive, or be sarcastic. You may need to say something like: “Please don’t yell at me. I can’t understand or help you if you don’t stop yelling.” Do it with a pleasant voice that doesn’t acknowledge that they are getting to you.
6. Be Silent When Necessary.
If they begin ranting or become hostile, stop talking and wait for them to run out of steam.
Important note: You never have to respond to hostile or abusive language. You can end the conversation at any time by saying: “We are done here. Good-bye.” If you are threatened, call 9-1-1.
7. Wait to Be Invited Back Into the conversation.
When there is silence, say: “As I was saying” or “So, what would you like me to do?” Use a lower, more authoritative (but not bossy) tone of voice.
Remember – you are the messenger. Don’t engage with someone who is being hostile. Go back to being completely silent until they wear down and then walk away or say “Goodbye”.
8. Confirm If They Want Follow-up.
Give them a realistic date of when you will get back to them with a status. Assure them you will follow-up. And, don’t make a promise to respond or follow-up that you can’t or won’t keep.
9. End the Conversation.
Say: “Thank you for sharing/for your information/feedback. I have what I need. Good-bye.” If they refuse to finish the conversation, you may need to talk over them, and say: “Thank you for sharing. We’re done now. Good-bye.” If you’re on the phone, you can say: “I’m going to hang up now.” Then hang up! If in person, just say: “We are done here” and calmly walk away.
Stay in control. You can end the conversation at any time.
Communication with difficult people is a normal part of life. How we handle this type of conflict can make a positive or negative difference. Join me for a FREE Workshop on Friday May 15 Communicating with Difficult People: Hard Conversations for Hard Times. You will be well-prepared the next time you find yourself having a conversation with a DIF.
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.
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