Lets get right down to it. You want to handle those difficult personalities like a boss? Well, as you read further, you'll notice a theme. It's more about you than that difficult person driving you nuts.
I say this because when we're dealing with a difficult person, the only thing we have control over is our own reactions and ourselves. We can't change Joe in Sales when he flies off the handle. We can, however, change how we respond to Joe.
Here are the best strategies for handling the most difficult person.
Develop Your Self-awareness
You can learn all the strategies in the world to manage a difficult person, but the smartest thing you'll ever do is to manage your own emotions. This is where self-awareness comes in, and it'll be a game changer once you master it.
To become self-aware, you need to practice noticing your feelings, thoughts, and behavior--your triggers, and yes, the very things that difficult people do to get under your skin. Some people find it helpful to start keeping a little notepad or journal with them and documenting things as they come up.
When you get good at it, you'll start looking at the whole picture, and both sides of the issue. You begin to tap into your emotions to choose a different outcome, like an assertive response to a difficult person overstepping your boundaries.
Speaking of assertive response, that's the second strategy.
Be Assertive and Set Boundaries
An assertive person takes full responsibility for herself and her actions. When a difficult person violates her boundaries, she does not seek to be responsible for that person's actions.
She seeks self-control, is fair and reasonable, takes on the part of the problem that belongs to her, and keeps the rest of the problem where it belongs--with the difficult person.
An assertive person sets limits and stands up for herself so others wont take advantage. But she takes the higher road and does it with class. She uses "I" statements, not "you" statements, which tends to lead to attack and blame. That's the last thing a difficult person in the heat-of-the-moment needs in an emotionally-charged situation.
What difficult co-workers learn quickly is that they can't easily get an assertive person to do or go along with whatever they wish. Put it to practice, and watch the potential for conflict disappear.
Listen. Then Listen Some More.
Give the difficult person a chance to finish without interrupting. Ask clarifying questions if confused, and use paraphrasing and mirroring to check accuracy of hearing.
Now this is going to be hard to do, but you must at least try it because the outcome may surprise you: Acknowledge the other person's feelings. You heard me right. So, if the other person is angry, say, "You must be feeling very frustrated..."
We don't do this often enough because we erroneously believe that if we notice someone's feelings, those feelings will intensify. Actually, the opposite is true. When we address a need, or acknowledge an emotion, the need or feeling tends to go away.
There's a time when a difficult person has to be told his behavior is affecting you and is no longer appropriate. Here's how to pull it off:
- Maintain comfortable eye contact. In other words, don't "give him the eye."
- Remain open-minded.
- Pay attention to non-verbal signals as a way of reading the person's feeling state.
- Use an "I" statement of feeling. Ex: "I feel this like decision violates our trust."
- Request what you'd like to have happen now, more, or different next time. Without a request, you're merely describing your feelings--and that's a good start, but if you want things to change, you'll probably need to provide a little guidance. Ex: "I'm requesting that from now on you hold your comments until the end of the meeting.
- Focus on difficult person's behavior and never make it about the person. Give specific examples that you can back up.
- Feedback should always be focused on win-win.
- Get agreement about a plan of action, and commitment on both your parts to follow through.
I'd be curious to learn about how my readers have responded to a difficult person. Leave a comment, or hit me up on Twitter to continue the discussion.