Difficult people exist everywhere – no workplace is without them. There is always at least one person who constantly gets on your nerves. People differ, and sometimes others’ approach to communication is nothing like what you are accustomed to – but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel exhausted and frustrated after a hard conversation with a challenging colleague or customer. Dealing with difficult people at work is not so easy to accomplish, but sometimes there is no other way but to do your best and talk. The question, however, is on the table: how to deal with difficult people when the situation demands, and manage to save your inner resources, stay calm, and maybe even get something constructive out of it?
Sometimes, when you know the conversation isn’t going to be productive, your only goal might be to successfully defuse a difficult situation without wasting all your power on it, and leave. A wish like that is perfectly normal – and in this article we have gathered tips and techniques for managing complicated communications. These tactics work for many occasions, may it be dealing with your boss, a coworker, a customer, a family member, or even a stranger.
It is perfectly okay to feel scared when talking to someone with unreasonable behavior – this is the way your brain automatically reacts to stress factors such as this. Think about these tips as a shield you can consciously use to handle difficult people around you. Some of the suggested tactics are generic – they are more about the attitude rather than actions. Others, on the contrary, are aimed to tell you what to do in the exact moment.
1. Try to stay calm
Deep emotional engagement in the stressful situation can result in exhaustion and frustration. Try saving your own power for better: concentrate on your breathing, take deep breaths to control your possible emotional outbursts.
Everyone wants to be heard and acknowledged. Even the most unreasonable people can have a sensible point they are trying to share. Listening is your number one working strategy: try to focus on what your opponent is saying and disentangle their main idea, acknowledge your presence in the conversation with real listening.
Regardless of how this person treats you (as long as their behavior comes without any real harm) – try approaching them with respect. The way you treat other people is something that describes you rather than your opponent. Confronted with reason and respect rather than contempt, the person might even come to their senses – after all, no one knows for sure what made them behave as unreasonable as they do.
4. No judgment
It is usually traumas and tangled inner conflicts that make people acquire aggressive behavior. Without trying to guess why this person treats you the way they do, try not to judge them. It isn’t easy to deal with all the horrible things people sometimes say and do, but, chances are, you don’t know what your opponent is going through. Of course, this is not an excuse for their actions, but you shouldn’t be the judge, either – your task here is to keep your personal boundaries intact.
5. Look for others who might help
If you’re dealing with an angry patient or customer, see if there are any coworkers around you who might help you resolve the conflict.
6. Try not to smile
As weird as it seems, sometimes smiling can be perceived as a sign of disregard or mocking rather than conciliation – especially if your opponent is angry and not in the mood for pleasantries.
7. Don’t be angry in return
This one isn’t easy to do, but it is important to try. When the situation is already tense, answering with aggression won’t do any good. As tempting as it might be in the moment, nothing productive is going to come out of such communication after both of you let the steam off.
8. Keep some space between you and your opponent
When confronted with aggression, some people naturally tend to stand back, whereas others might want to comfort the other person by touching their arms or shoulders. In situation of conflict, it is best to avoid touch, for you cannot be sure whether it is going to be helpful or, on the contrary, escalate your dispute.
9. Set your boundaries
Coping with difficult people is exhausting because a lot of your inner resources are being taken and wasted. While it is important to listen to and respect the opinion of the Other, it is crucial to set your limits and boundaries. You have the right to say ‘Please, don’t talk to me this way’, or ‘I don’t think I can discuss in now’ when you feel that the person is violating your boundaries.
10. Take care of yourself
Even if you did your absolute best in resolving a challenging situation, you have put your natural instincts and reactions on hold – that usually means some at least some amount of stress. Find some time to repair the damage and do something nice to yourself to discharge the adrenaline. Go for a run, talk to someone about what happened, or take a long walk – don’t let your emotions build up and get stuck in your head.