Monday, July 17, 2006

How to Deal With Difficult People

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Everyone has experienced a time when they had to deal with a difficult person. This is a form of adversity. Difficult people take different shapes whether they are argumentative, abusive, stubborn, angry, combative or a host of other negative emotions.

The question is, how can we deal with them?

In my view, angry people are screaming to be heard. They want to be valued, loved and listened to. They want to feel important but just don't know how to do it right.

Here's 7 things I do when in the presence of such a person:

1. Remain calm in the eye of the storm. Be still and say nothing. Let it run its course. Often times the angry person is trying to provoke you into a shouting match. It doesn't pay to argue because it raises barriers. Remember how I handled the barber situation?

2. Let the person do a great deal of the talking. He will soon tire of it. Sometimes that's all they want. To be heard. To feel important. Everyone wants to feel important. Some people just express it in ways that are counterproductive.

3. Genuinely see from the other person's point of view. Imagine yourself in his shoes. Never say "you're wrong." In fact, try hard to look for areas of agreement and expound on them.

4. There's power in the words "Yes, yes, I see exactly what you're saying. You mean......." This shows the other person you heard him. That's all they usually want - to be validated! By agreeing on some things, you are gradually breaking down the other person's anger or resistance.

5. If the situation turns verbally abusive, put a stop to it (with your palms extended upward as if you were a traffic policeman), and firmly but calmly state: "You're very angry right now and you're saying things you don't mean (give the benefit of the doubt) so I will excuse myself and we'll talk again after you calm down." Then leave the room or ask the person to leave.

6. If you are wrong, quickly admit it and take responsibility. You could say, "You're absolutely right, it is my fault and here is what I will do about it......."

Or even if you're convinced you're NOT wrong, at least give the benefit of the doubt, "I may be wrong, let's look at the facts together." No one would argue with that!

These words also have power - tremendous power. Not only does it validate the other person's viewpoint but it also diffuses the tension hanging in the air - it dissipates almost immediately and you can almost hear (or in my case see) a sigh of relief from the other person. They have been heard is what their brain is telling them. You might be surprised to see what happens after that. This person might do a sudden about-face and actually end up defending you!

They might have a change of heart and say: "Yes, you're at fault but it's no big deal, everyone makes mistakes." You could actually have a little fun watching the other person reverse course if you continue on with this dialogue. I've done it myself numerous times. It's almost addictive!

"I should have been more careful, I'm embarrassed to have done this. You've given me a lot of work and I'm grateful for it. In fact, I'm going to do this project all over again for you."

The other person, being human and having been heard (and validated) might protest, "No, No, I wouldn't put you through all that trouble." (If on the other hand that doesn't happen and he agrees with your assessment, well then do the next best thing and just do it.)

For the most part, you'd be amazed what was once a difficult person trying to pin the blame on you is suddenly an advocate of yours. Instead of arguing with the person, saying he was wrong and you were right, what's happened is you've changed what could have been an ugly event into one that turned out better than you envisioned! It is a most amazing feeling.

Your eagerness to show he was right and you were wrong would take the fight out of him. There is a lot of satisfaction, at least in my mind, to having the courage to admit that someone else was right in pointing out your errors. The person criticizing you is often primed for a big argument but when you surprise the other person by agreeing with some of his viewpoints, you sap his will to fight because there's nothing left for him to wield the sword!

7. If you're dealing with someone you deal with on a daily basis like a boss or co-worker who is constantly negative, combative, argumentative and the like, what I've done is to use the power of visualization. I imagine that person as a loving spiritual being having a human experience. I did this with a boss I had at the Wall Street bank several years ago. He was an absolute tyrant and gave everyone, including me, a hard time. In retrospect, he was clearly unhappy and insecure.

One day I had an idea (thanks to the book The Power of Positive Thinking) and started to visualize him as a loving grandfather because when he was a good mood (which you never knew would happen), he would lovingly talk about his grandchildren. His eyes and face would light up with incredible joy, leading me to realize there was a softhearted man behind the mean-looking facade. Every morning before going to work, I imagined him romping around in the backyard on a warm, breezy day with his grandkids squealing and laughing with delight. I did this for several months with amazing results.

Long story short, this man promoted me almost 1 year later. I will be writing a story about this experience in the future but what I want to emphasize is that this promotion was in no small part due to the power of visualization. No one can dispute that this works because I've lived to tell the story. I've used it win trips to Mexico and Bermuda (sales contests at Merrill Lynch), to forgive those who have hurt me, to become the world's first deaf instrument pilot and to give powerful presentations, to name a few. It's absolutely amazing.

Food for thought: Think about how you dealt with difficult people in the past. Were you tempted to prove them wrong, trying to save yourself face? Were you able to see through the facade and truly see that all they want is to be heard, loved and validated? Have you tried the power of visualization?
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