Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Practical Guidelines for Dealing with Difficult People. Transform any conflict into opportunity.

Here are some guidelines for dealing with those individuals who appear to be especially difficult…

Depersonalize. At the outset of a difficult interaction, remind yourself that the other person's concern or frustration is most likely situational. It's about "something" and not necessarily about you.

Be agreeable. If you can't agree in fact, then agree in principle or agree provisionally. For example, imagine that you're a financial analyst and one of your colleagues says, "The numbers in this report are wrong." Before you react, take another look at the numbers. If there is an error, agree in fact by saying, "Thank you. You're right. Glad you caught that." If you are confident there are no errors, rather than argue, say this, "I agree—if you think the numbers are inaccurate, that's a problem. Can you tell me why these numbers don't look right to you?" Key Principle: A person cannot sustain anger or frustration with someone who has just agreed with them. Had you said, "No, you're wrong, these numbers are dead on. I've checked them many times," you would have begun an argument. When you fight fire with fire, you get ashes.

Be steadfast. Do not allow another person to be abusive or to violate standards of ethics, decency, or personal safety. Calmly remove yourself from the situation and/or escalate such a situation to your boss. If you are the boss, state your willingness to deal with the issue when there is an atmosphere of mutual respect. Ask the person to reconsider his or her approach, at which time you will reconsider his or her concern.

Deal with issues, not personalities. Fix the problem, not the blame. If someone says, "Your accounting department got these numbers all wrong," don't defend the accounting department. Don't make the conversation about them. Simply continue the conversation in this manner: "Can you please tell me which numbers appear to be wrong?"

Let the other person finish his or her story without interrupting. Even if you disagree with what is said, let it be said. Let him get it off his chest. If you interrupt, you will become combative and the situation will deteriorate. We all know this to be true, but it is so difficult to "bite our tongues," as they say. However, once someone has let the steam out, it's mostly out. He or she be easier to deal with.

Deal with specifics, not generalities. For instance, if a customer says, "This is a stupid product design," don't argue. Ask the individual, "So that we can increase your satisfaction with the product, would you please tell me what it is, in particular, that you don't like about the design?" Here's the magic. If there's nothing specific that they can point out, they'll back off. If there is something specific, you'll be glad to know and can address it. "It" is often a relatively little thing that has them "stuck." If it's fixable, why not get them and potentially others unstuck on whatever it is.

Take a break to buy some time. If someone is in an argumentative or combative mode, continue to listen and focus your attention on his or her concerns (versus your likely rebuttal) by taking notes. When he or she has finished, say this: "I've made note of your concerns. Before I give too quick a response that may not address these adequately, I need a little time to think about the situation and get back to you." About 80 percent of the time, she'll reply, "Okay, but when will you get back to me?" Your reply depends on the magnitude of her concerns. You may only need 10 or 20 minutes, but this is sufficient time for you to really collect your thoughts, and enough time to let her cool down and, generally, she will. Your subsequent conversation will be far more constructive.



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