HDI Community Blog

Sophie Klossner
How to Handle Difficult People
Written by Sophie Klossner Feb 24, 2012

This week I had the great opportunity to take a leadership class sponsored through UBM.  Along with my peers, we had the chance to learn from a "Communications Strategist" how to look inside ourselves, figure out where we are coming from when we encounter a difficult person (or situation) and what our responses will be.  I've taken many classes throughout my career, but I have to say that this one was the most enlightening for me personally, as well as giving me tips and techniques that can be used without a lot of thought and discussion.

The instructor, Jenn Kaye, started out the class with the comment that everything shared today wouldn't be beneficial, but her phrase of "Take the best and leave the rest" resonated with me.  I knew I didn't have to learn everything, but one thing that I could use.  Take the best and leave the rest.  Ok...I'm ready for the day.

So here's my "take the best and leave the rest" of what I am learning about myself and how to deal with difficult people (including myself)...

We began the day with figuring out our SELF


          S = Attention, Achievement, Recognition, Adventure, Excitement,Spontaneity, Creative, Out-of-the-box, Solution-Oriented, Have Fun!  "Get It Done -- Have Fun"

          E = Control, Responsibility, Mastery, Loyalty, Fast paced, To the point, What's the plan, Bottom-line  "Get It Done!"

          L = Popularity, Closeness, Affirmation, Kindness, Caring, Dislike conflict, Harmony, Win-win  "Get It Done -- So Everyone Feels Good"

          F = Perfection, Autonomy, Consistency, Practical, Information, Need more info, Data, Analysis  "Get It Done -- Right!"


          S = Lack of enthusiasm, Waiting, Indecision, Convention

          E= Ambiguity, Irreverence, Laziness, Showing emotions

          L = Insensitivity, Dissension, Insincerity, Egotism

          F = Over-assertiveness, Carelessness, Arrogance, Fakes

After discussions about where we would find ourselves in this SELF examination, and a lot of introspection, the class turned that around at how we interact with difficult people and why we considered them difficult.  A great eye-opener for me was the phrase "Separate the person from the behavior...and respond to the behavior"  (Why is it when we deal with difficult people we get so emotional and we attack the person, when it's the behavior we don't like!)

We were given some key steps to follow in identifying the triggers that set us off and how to deal with those triggers.

  • Acknowledge the emotion that comes with that trigger
    • "What am I feeling right now?"
    • "How's that working for me?"
  • Do one thing to shift and eliminate that trigger
    • Shake it off -- stand up and shake your hands, wiggle your body, truly "shake it off"
    • Wash your hands -- go in the bathroom and wash your hands...getting rid of the trigger
    • Change your state of being -- get away from your desk, your computer, move away from the trigger...find your calm!

Now, when you are ready to deal with your "trigger" or your difficult person, here are some tips and techniques that were shared and developed

  • Listen first
    • Actively listen
    • Paraphrase the situation
    • Probe the speaker (your trigger) to get more information
    • Understand the problem/situation first
  • Lead with a positive
    • Stay focused on the positive aspects and strengths that the person possesses
    • Lead off with a reflection of the person's assets
  • Demonstrate your own best traits
    • Be, and appear, open, calm and flexible
    • Remember that your tone of voice will speak louder than your actual words
  • Spell it out
    • Be succinct in your request -- limit your words
    • Push politely
    • Ask for their opinions -- but agree to disagree
    • Tie it all together -- paraphrase the discussion and the decisions

And be ready with your 5 step communication system

  1. Separate the fact from the emotion
  2. What do I want? (What is the desired result or outcome?)
  3. Why is the outcome important to you, your team, your company, your family, etc.?
  4. What am I willing to risk to be authentic --  in other words, what are you willing to let go of for your need to be right?
  5. Put your communications in 10 words or less and stack those 10 words.  This removes the static and focuses on the outcome.

Then use these powerful communication tools

  • Start sentences with "I" or "We" instead of "You."
  • Take out all "buts"...put in "ands"
  • Use a neutral tone of voice
  • Use the person's first name or respected name
  • Remove all "shoulds"
  • Ask for help to get buy-in...example would be "Would you be willing..."
  • Statements like "I understand and...."

As I learned in this class, I cannot change anyone else, no matter how much I want to, not even a little, I can only change how I choose to respond to them!

So, take the best and leave the rest!

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