Dealing with Difficult People

Posted on December 19, 2007 | Filed in Career

Difficult people come in the forms of customers, colleagues, subordinates, and supervisors. Difficult people won’t change on their own, and, unfortunately it’s not likely that you will be able to change them. Before you let this this fact depress you, consider these tips for coping:

1.) Try to be as positive as possible. Formulate a strategy. Decide in advance what results you would like to achieve rather than concentrate on negative issues or your bad feelings about the difficult person.

2.) Express your feelings. Don’t bottle up irritation, outrage, annoyance, or feelings of hurt.

3.) Invite others to express how they feel. Seek feedback. Don’t try to guess what someone else is thinking.

4.) Use open-ended questions to inquire about feelings and opinions.

5.) In cases of dispute, appeal to a higher authority-preferably something totally objective, such as a rule book, a protocal manual, or some similar source.

6.) Keep documentation. This may not only limit or entirely avert disputes with difficult people, it might just save your hide. When your boss assigns you a major project, get the specifics in writing. If the assignment is made verbally, send a follow up e-mail or a confirming memo that states the specifics. Get the other person to sign off on it.

7.) While documentation is important, don’t let written memos become substitutes for face-to-face conversations. It is important to deal directly with difficult people in order to see their body language and to hear the tone of their voice.

8.) Go out of your way to ask difficult people for their opinion and for their help. Getting them to take interest in you will tend to give them ownership stake in your projects and your problems. Because difficult people tend not to change, their behavior is usually predictable. While you should not expect too much of difficult people at least you can prepare for encounters with them.

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