How to deal with Difficult people

Difficult people and difficult conversations are part of our life especially when you are doing a high profile work and dealing with many people on daily basis. The trick is not to get bogged down by difficult people, but to develop and art of influencing difficult people to make the conversation resourceful and productive.  In our routine life the conversations with Boss, Spouse, Neigbours, Friends, Co-workers, have tendency to get difficult.

Over the period of years I have been following some tips and tricks when doing these difficult conversations, here I am sharing those with you.

On the positive side there is a sense of achievement that you get when you successfully deal with difficult people and achieve the objectives of the conversation.

The first technique is very simple – It’s called the Blindfold technique. Here you either assume or really blind fold yourself with handkerchief , this way you can pay attention to the words and not focus on who the person is , what is body language is or the offensive gestures.  Many times the other person also thinks that we are difficult to deal with, so carrying bias about people will not help. You must leave the bias aside and only focus on current transaction (conversation).  So even if you cannot blindfold yourself the trick is to listen to what they person is trying to say, in between lines, and think if there is any way you can help resolve his problem or alleviate the intensity of situation.

Tips for dealing with extra-difficult behaviors

When the other person is…

Use following tricks . . .

Aggressive and /or disrespectful

  • Most important thing is to remain calm, do not raise your voice.  Calmness will help you in getting respect back.
  • If the person is verbally attacking you, then you must interrupt by repeating  the other person's name until he or she stops attacking.
  • Try walking away by saying … “When you're ready to speak to me with respect, I will take all the time you want to discuss this."

Non Listener or "know-it-all" person

  • Let the other person think that he is leading the conversation, only guide the conversation your way by using the phrases such as "I was just wondering," "Bear with me a minute," or "What do you suppose?". This way the information will directly come from him./her and you will achieve the end result.
  • Prepare yourself about the subject , do your homework , so they cannot take you for ride.
  • Keep acknowledging that the person does possess valuable knowledge. This will help in redirecting the person to your idea.

Throws a temper tantrum

  • Taking a break and then continue the conversation. Get intentionally interrupted by phone or email or something, take 15 mins break or longer then return.
  • Smile and wave your arms and start calling other person’s name loudly enough to be heard.
  • Realize that the other person is in trouble and needs help, so you can empathize and say …  "Husain, Husain, I understand how you must be feeling, it’s unfair, lets discuss more, I want to help."

Silent or doesn’t want to communicate

  • First thing you must do is to break ice. Ask something really generic, like weather, sports or about their personal life as appropriate. Get other person talking or atleast make them say “Yes” to couple of questions, like “Weather is really hot today , isn’t it ?”
  • Ensure that other person has enough time to respond to your ideas and questions.
  • During the conversation, keep asking open-ended questions: "What are you thinking?",  "How do you think we should proceed?" "Where should we go from here?"
  • On physiology, try looking expectantly at the person for a longer-than-usual period of time after making a comment or asking a question. Do NOT fill the silence by your speech.

Negative about situation or Cynical person.

  • Anticipate and bring up negative aspects of an idea before the other person does.  For eg: I know there is huge risk in this plan and we may not make enough money , ….
  • They will need time to consider your action plan for change and get back to you. Give them the time they want.
  • Engaging the person through use of "reverse psychology": "You're right: This is hopeless. Even you couldn't solve our problem." , the other person may now take an opposite stand and could possibly say … “Its not that bad…”


Other tips

  • Use Inquiry over advocacy. When you strongly believe in something you tend to advocate and not inquire. Try influencing by asking questions.
  • When you are facing resistance , Use Paraphrasing and Clarify the resistance.
  • The rule is: Give before you ask, you must use reciprocity principle to get persuade other person.

Spiritual Side

  • Control your ego. Ego causes hatred, jealousy and many such emotions. Chances are that other person also finds interaction with you difficult. Try to understand  that there can be problems, unmet needs of other person , which is causing conflict.
  • Use the Law of Giving before receiving. Try to give other person a small gift. It can be sincere appreciation , genuine concern or a flower, candy. It does not have to be high value. The gift is to show that amidst the conflicts , you still love other person as a human being.
  • Believe in destiny, other person will not be able to do any damage to you , if its in your destiny.