There is an adage that people are not difficult; situations are. Whether you believe the adage or not, we can agree that it is a rare individual among us who manages to avoid encountering someone whom we feel is being difficult in some way. Such a perspective, of course, is based on our own points of view. Surely WE are not the difficult ones!
When two or more people are involved in something, together, the potential for experiencing difficulty in our interpersonal relationships exists. Such experiences are natural occurrences. Diverse backgrounds, experiences, reactions to stimuli, perceptions, feelings, interpretations, and other cause-and-effect conditions feed impressions that we each may be difficult to deal with in some way.
The number of conflicts intensify as we do more work with fewer resources in the workplace, causing stress levels to rise. More than half of all employees say they lost work time worrying about confrontation with a co-worker, according to a survey by researchers at the University of North Carolina. Be careful of taking your work issues home and your home issues to work, While difficult to separate the two while you involve your emotions, strive to strike a balance between the issues, behaviors, and feelings that you carry between the two worlds.
People who seem to create difficult situations in our lives come in as many persuasions representing as wide a range of demographics as there are in this wonderful world of ours. Those who study human behavior typically categorize behaviors deemed difficult into the following three categories:
- Aggressive — bullying; dictatorial; threatening; overbearing; interrupting.
- Acquiescing — giving-in without a fight; “yes” person; goes the way the wind blows; seemingly spineless; refuses to stand up for oneself.
- Silent — does not speak up for oneself; you have no idea where they stand, what they want, or how they think about a situation.
Our challenge in dealing with someone we deem difficult is how we react to him and interact with her. We can do little to change another person. We can own our own reactions and responses in order to neutralize, live with, or reject the situations or people we find difficult. These nine approaches can help you to deal with people you deem difficult.
1. Look within yourself to determine the behaviors – not the personalities – that make people seem difficult to you. Each of us has different triggers. Determine the behaviors that trigger the “difficult” signal for you. Life Coach Paula White notes, “You can’t change what you don’t confront, and you can’t confront what you don’t identify.” When you can identify specific behaviors that cause you to deem a person or situation difficult, you can then confront your interpretation of those behaviors to determine how you might view the behaviors differently.
2. Step away from the situation–either physically or figuratively–long enough to assess whether you need to deal with it now while your emotions are high, or later after your feelings are more under control. When your emotions are high, you are more likely to react in ways that can exacerbate the situation or cause the other person to then deem you difficult to work with.
3. Bounce your thoughts and feelings off of someone you trust. Determine if you are so deeply involved that you are blind to an obvious intervention. Are you making more of the situation than seems warranted? You may receive a perspective or a suggested intervention you, yourself, have not thought of. Having an alternative to consider helps ease the stress you feel when you think you have no alternative.
4. Approach the person you deem difficult with a positive attitude and open body language regardless of how you really feel inside. Doing so takes restraint and discipline on your part. Yet, your positivity and openness can diffuse a tense situation and give the other person the permission they need—and secretly want—to back down from their stance or take an alternative approach to being defensive or confrontational.
5. Ask the other person for permission to talk about something that is bothering you that involves the two of you. Find a less-public place in which to talk. Make the situation be between just the two of you so that you can work things out together. Public displays promote public performances and have the potential to cause embarrassment for both of you.
6. Use “I” statements to communicate that your perception of a situation is just that…your perception. Take ownership of your perception rather than accuse the other person of intentions that may or may not be true for them. Focus on behaviors rather than on personal traits.
7. Stop talking and listen to the other person’s point of view. Ask open-ended, non-confrontational questions to elicit more than simple one-word answers. Encourage two-way conversation to clarify a situation and exchange differing points of view. When you stop talking and really listen to the other person, you allow yourself to hear how they feel and interpret the same situation, differently.
8. Propose a solution or offer a truce. Have a “Plan B” or “Plan C”. Be prepared to compromise or cooperate. You own the difficulty, not the other person. They may think that they have little need to negotiate or change their behavior even after you both over the situation. That is their prerogative. Yours is to offer what you can offer, then accept what you cannot change. Keep the Serenity Prayer in mind: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
9. Be willing to accept the situation and move on. You may need a third person to offset or ease the tension in a situation. You also have a choice to abandon or leave the person or the difficult situation. Know, however, that avoidance usually just postpones an inevitable conflict rather than solves the difficulty.
One hard-and-fast rule or strategy for dealing with someone you deem difficult or facing a difficult situation seldom exists. Each situation differs; each person involved is different. Firm solutions often fall short of how you envisioned them. Become familiar with multiple strategies for handling difficult situations and interacting with different people. The more tools in your toolbox, the more-flexible you are to minimizing conflict.