Training September 2015

You’re so difficult

Put your first reaction on pause

  • Employ self-reflection and past situation analysis
  • Ask questions and listen for answers, rather than give orders
  • Do not confront or resist but re-direct that energy

You know you are not perfect, but some people are a real pain. The easiest way forward is to reduce stress to a minimum by avoiding them or minimising interaction, as it can be exhausting and a waste of valuable time.

Yet, unresolved conflicts and miscommunication leads to even greater time wastage, a lowering of morale and lost productivity. If your rivals are dealing with these internal issues better than you are, their team will win in the marketplace.

One of the conundrums is defining difficult as it varies so much between individuals and from situation to situation. While we cannot control other people, we can control ourselves in any situation or relationship. A bit of self-reflection will help to flush out our perceptions, biases, attitudes, behaviours, feelings and communication style that might be fuelling conflict.

Past situation analysis is a handy tool to plumb the depths of our unhappiness with others. Reflect on a situation where you didn’t handle the difficult person well and things rapidly deteriorated. What was the trigger point for you or them? What was the outcome after the confrontation? Is it possible you contributed to the explosion of emotions? What was the biggest lesson you came away with from this meltdown? Additionally, have there been any situations where you did pretty well handling a difficult colleague? What worked, what was the outcome and what did you learn as a result?

A handy helper in the toolbox of dealing with difficult people is “the benefit of the doubt”. This means suspending the belief that you are right and they are wrong. Before allowing chemical reactions in the body to go into fight or flight mode, mentally hit the pause button for six seconds.

What do you know about this person that might be triggering this behaviour which you find upsetting or annoying? Is there some historical context related to the way they were raised, the life experiences they have had and the influences they have absorbed? Is this a communication issue, because neither of you is a native speaker of the same language? Keep the pause button on hold for another six seconds and think if there is another situational context: perhaps that morning they scratched their new car, had a fight at home or got reprimanded by their boss.

When we pause and take a breath, we can better control how we react, and not simply let the chemical surge take over. There are useful human relations principles we can apply to move us into a positive mental framework. Instead of telling others what they need to do, we can swap in some questions instead. What led them to reach that conclusion? What experience has led them to believe their idea is the best solution?

The hard bit is biting our tongue after we have asked the question, so that we don’t cut them off and jump in with our own insight. Instead, hear them out and ask follow-up questions. This now allows us to better understand what is driving the disagreement or their behaviour.

Letting them save face is a handy idea. Our egos can lock us into positions we don’t fully hold, because we don’t want to be seen to be backing down. We can take the ego bit out of the equation by how we communicate during the interaction. Being polite, reasonable and open goes a long way to reaching a resolution.

We might even disarm them with praise and honest appreciation for raising their countervailing views with us. When they know there is likely to be a disagreement, they mentally gear up for battle. By not providing a target there is no battle. We could thank them for being forthright and candid. We might mention some mistakes we have made in the past and how we have resolved to do a better job of educating ourselves and thank them for widening our range of viewpoints. Smiling silence is our best defence, as we get them to do the talking.

When we take the high road, difficult people often run out of gas because we are not supplying fuel for the fight. This is the verbal aikido approach of not confronting or resisting attacks, but re-directing the energy along a path of our own choosing. Superior human relations skills are a powerful ally in dealing with the difficult, but they need practice and discipline.

Try using these ideas and life will get a whole lot easier.