Dealing with difficult people is difficult…

Or should it perhaps be “dealing with people is difficult”? As Neil Donald said in his Conversations With God, relationships are the biggest challenge that life presents us with. It takes time and effort to keep a healthy relationship and sometimes even the best efforts are not enough. Dealing with people equals relating to them which means building a relationship of some sort.

Relationships, like most things in life, are made of respect, responsibility, agreements, considerations etcetera; all of these fall into one big basket called Communication. The level of respect we feel a person is giving us is dictated by their communication, whether that’s verbal or non-verbal, with us. The level of responsibility they take or give to us is suggested by communication. We agree to things through communication and the whole relationship cannot function without communication.

The reason why this is stressed so greatly is simple: dealing with people means dealing with relationships, being in a relationship with someone must happen through communication and thus it would be useless to even attempt to deal with difficult people if we do not deal with the level of communication between them and us.

Often difficult relationships, situations and outcomes are nothing more than the result of poor communication; change the way you communicate and the response that you will receive will change too. This does not mean your words, not only words at least. Paralanguage, or non-verbal communication, represents more than 80% of the message we send across; when my wife looks at me saying “Luca Senatore!!!” after I have let my son eat Nutella, I know she is not just calling my name! Ever heard a friend calling another friend with a rather offensive name which, with a smile and a different tonality, becomes a compliment?

Communication is the most powerful interaction tool we have and yet, many of us do not know how to use it. This is the very core of dealing with difficult people; difficult people do not know how to use communication to express their needs/requirements/preferences. Difficult people are difficult because we do not like, rightly so, their way of communicating; they are only different to us, even if “us” means the rest of the world. Difficult people are not difficult to themselves; most of the times they would not think that they are being difficult which makes the whole thing even more difficult right?

So how can we deal with difficult people?

Easy, through communication! Whilst every situation is unique and needs to be analysed individually, the following tips may reveal themselves magical if you apply them rigorously. You must remember that there are different kinds of difficult people: the grumpy ones, the “I know better” ones, the lazy ones, the rude ones, the nosy ones, the “Everything is bad” ones, the “You have no rights over me” ones and the list goes on and on and on.

Whilst the specific process of dealing with them may vary and there might be several techniques available for you to do so, the core is always the same: Force them to change the way they communicate! That’s right; this is the one key to dealing with different people easily and quickly. If you are dealing with a grumpy person, you must elicit in him or her, a non-grumpy communication. If you are dealing with a lazy one, then you must elicit a non-lazy communication. What this means in practical terms is that you must persuade the person to snap out of the old, unproductive state of mind and get into a more productive one.

So how do you do that? Easy… Ask! That’s right, if you ask questions people must think. When you talk to people often they drift off thinking about something else. The mind can think up to 7000 times faster that our mouth can talk and so whilst you say one think they could be busy processing 7000 other things. When I teach sales techniques I often tell my student to follow the TTT approach. The TTT approach is Tell them what you are going to tell them, Tell them and Told them what you have told them. This is because generally, during a typical 60 minute conversation, people will only take in 40% of what you have said. The rest will be forgotten.

You can alter this by asking questions. When you ask questions people have to think before they can give you an answer and this keeps them hooked and focused on what you are saying. Whilst in sales we want to ask questions to influence the way people feel about our product or service, when dealing with difficult people our aim is that of influencing our “receiver” to think in a different way from their usual negative one. So to a grumpy man who we need to complete a project by the end of the week we may ask: “I have a problem Mr Grumpy: I have a challenging situation and I don’t know if this project can be completed by the end of the week, do you think you might be able help me find a solution?” or “I don’t know whether this can be done by the end of the week, what do you think Mr Grumpy?”. Things like these force us to think. They require rationality, analysis and focus which soften the edge of emotions and also they make the person feel responsible, and therefore capable, worthy and respected, for an evaluation. This might elicit the wish to help, which is a common human need, from Mr Grumpy.

So you have asked Mr Grumpy to give you something proactive and positive, “forcing” him to change they thinking pattern. The same concept can be applied to other “difficult” personality traits, simply ask questions which are specific and can lead the “receiver” to the opposite state of mind.

Whilst there are hundreds of good techniques to deal with difficult people, the above will help you a great deal if applied and so, as I often say and yet not often enough, take Action and use what you know.