By Rev. Dr. Louise-Diana

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It’s unavoidable: there are difficult and demanding people in the world. Sometimes it feels like there are quite a few of them.

There’s always one: the toxic coworker or boss that can drive you crazy and question your self worth. They make your work life more difficult and you may feel certain that life would be easier without them. It may be a family member that you just can’t resolve an issue with.

Everyone encounters difficult people and experiences the frustrations of interacting with them. But frustration, and the outcomes of conversations with difficult people, are at least partially under YOUR control. By learning and applying various tips and strategies you can make your life easier and have fewer problems.

Although most of us have had our fair share of difficult colleagues, not many of us have mastered the art of dealing with them. Many people feel it is easier to let the hostile behavior slide and hope that it stops. Little do they know, leaving these challenging situations unaddressed will allow the behavior to continue.

The idea in dealing with difficult people is to first look at your role in the situation and then to try the following strategies:

1) When discussing problems with difficult people, keep it short and direct. It minimizes a stressful situation for both of you. Don’t argue with them, as it’s a waste of time. When you do speak, be sure your tone is non-emotional and non-confrontational.

2) Generally speaking, it is good to practice starting conversations that create goodwill. Ask people about the things they like – family, hobbies, TV programs and work in general. This is a very good way to disarm them, get them talking and make them feel more comfortable. If you are dealing with silent people who ignore you and seek safety by refusing to respond, then there should be another response. Silent people get away with not talking because most people are uncomfortable with silence. Get them to talk by asking open-ended questions that can’t be answered with just a yes or no, then wait at least one full minute and don’t try to fill the space with words to ease your own discomfort.

3) Oftentimes, indirect language works because it focuses on the work rather than the person. Instead of saying, “You need to get it to me,” you can say, “Reports must be prepared.” That way, people are less likely to feel that they are under attack.

4) Learn to admit when you’re wrong. Make apologies to all you have harmed. It can be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done,” “I made a mistake” or “I could be wrong.” The more you do this, the easier it becomes.

5) Confront problems professionally and with confidence. As a matter of fact, when you get into a tough point, don’t raise your voice, as dealing with difficult people in a calm and permissive way will most likely keep the emotional level and force the person to listen to you.

6) Keep in mind that how you communicate with others has much to do with how people respond to you. Difficult people are difficult because their desires are being met through their difficult behavior. Difficult people are often fully aware they are being difficult. They continue because there is a reward in the end result. You have to analyze what you have been doing in the past that rewards or encourages the difficult person’s behavior. Then, stop rewarding them.

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7) Knowledge is power and it’s to our advantage to develop and practice effective conflict management practices that facilitate discussion. Read related books, attend workshops (like mine), listen to tapes or CDs. Learn how to establish an immediate rapport through a smile or eye contact. Develop as many skills as you can. This way you gain credibility, and your efforts will soften those opposing you. Effective communication is critical.

8) Build your self-confidence. Self-confident people are not as concerned with what other people think about them. They will not instinctively let the difficult person have their way in hopes of being liked. Additionally, people with high self-esteem are less likely to respond to the difficult person by being a difficult person.

If the difficult person tries to verbally bully you, just say, “I don’t allow people to treat me this way.” Then slowly and calmly walk away. So be confident and look your bully in the eye. Don’t forget to breathe (most people tend to forget to breathe when under stress). Speak in a calm and clear voice while asserting yourself by naming the behavior you don’t like and state what is expected instead.

9) If you can’t see the problem from the difficult person’s point of view, ask them. While this may not work with some, it’s usually a good idea in the case of closer relationships. The trick is, in arguments, you need to have patience with the other person, and self-restraint with yourself.

Some difficult people are experts at taking potshots and making sneak attacks in subtle indirect ways. Respond to those snipers with a question like “Are you’re making fun of me?” Although a sniper usually replies to such question with denial, it will reduce the chance for similar attacks in the future.

10) Remain open to other people’s opinions, viewpoints, and ideas. Share yours, as well. Find something to appreciate and comment on in a clever way. Too often, we focus on what people are doing wrong. Try to catch them doing something right and comment on it. It makes people feel less under attack.

Dealing with difficult people takes persistence and practice, so don’t get discouraged. Although these strategies won’t change the difficult people, they will break their ability to interfere with your daily activities. Most important, you’ll feel more confident and you’ll start to enjoy your life.

Rev. Dr. Louise-Diana will teach “Dealing with Difficult & Demanding People,” July 11-25.

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