We all have to deal with difficult people at some time in our career.  Sometimes, it feels like all we deal with is difficult people.  Many people have attended my class on dealing with difficult people and have asked me what is the secret to overcoming a difficult person.  My answer is as follows:

First, there is no magic trick or secret technique that is going to instantly convert the difficult person into a nice amiable fellow.

It is also important to note that a difficult person could either be situationally difficult or experientially difficult.  The situationally difficult person may normally be a very nice person but this person has been put into a difficult situation that has helped to unleash the monster.  By understanding the situation, you might be better able to help bring that person back to normalcy. The experientially difficult person, on the other hand, is one that has some innate desire or wish that is beyond the present situation and pervades this person’s life experiences to being difficult on a regular basis.  Understanding which type of person you are dealing with can help to understand how to deal with the situation.  Nothing you can do will overcome this type of difficult person.  All that you can realistically expect is to cope with the experientially difficult person.

Once you understand the type of person you are dealing with you can start to work on a coping mechanism or a possible solution.  Here are four things that you can do in any situation to help minimize the impact of the difficult person:

  1. LISTEN.  It sounds simple.  But listening, actually listening, is very hard.  By making a genuine attempt to listen, and a genuine attempt to understand this person’s situation, you can better understand solutions — especially for the situationally difficult person.
  2. ESTABLISH RAPPORT.  You would be surprised at how powerful rapport building can be for dealing with difficult people.  Generally, the more people have in common, the more reasonable they will be and the more they are likely to accept your request or wish.
  3. STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN BEFORE JUMPING IN.  In other words, don’t just jump into the situation and respond with the first thing that comes to your head.  Use your internal filter and monitor your response.  Most times, your initial reaction that is from the heat of the moment is probably not the right reaction.  Moreover, with many difficult people, fighting fire with fire only makes for a larger fire.
  4. BE AGREEABLE.  Try and agree with the difficult person on some aspect of their comment or tirade.  Often times the person who is difficult is in fight or flight mode.  They are preparing for a fight.  However, when you instead show that you don’t want a fight, but instead actually agree with them, the other person’s fight or flight mode might be deactivated.  Then they might start to listen to reason.