6 Quick, Surefire Tips to Deal with Difficult People and Situations

Article By Marti Glenn, Ph.D.

Josh thought he was just having a conversation with a colleague; then things went south, and everything blew up. They both got angry; nasty accusations flew and their voices got louder and louder.

At the end of the fight, they each felt bad internally, and distrustful of the other. It took them several days to recover.

This is the kind of encounter we all try to avoid. Yet it does happen occasionally when you are suddenly thrown off guard.

The six simple steps below will help you avoid such situations. These strategies can help you get to the other side without hurting yourself or the other person as well as save you a lot of embarrassment and aggravation.

  1. Notice that you’re off: What is the physical sensation? Do you feel a heaviness in your chest? Jaws or shoulders tight? Sinking feeling in your belly? Let that sensation be a reminder to step back and respond using the tips below. This will help you keeps things intact.
  2. Resource: Breathe, slow down, take a moment. Excuse yourself if you have to. This gives you a break to assess the situation and return in a better frame of mind.
  3. Ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing here?” If you think long term, is it important that the other person do what you want them to do right now, or that they admit that you’re right? Most often it’s the relationship that’s most important. It might be the long-term functioning of the team or outcome of a project. You probably don’t want to create a rift that pushes the person further away.
  4. Listen and reflect the other person’s point. We have all been told this and it’s often not so easy to do. Say something like, “I get that putting this in the budget is important to you.” You don’t need to cede your position right now. Remember that when someone is about to or has “flipped their lid” their adult brain is not on line, so you are not going to have a productive conversation. Save that for another time. This authentic listening builds trust and lays the foundation for more connection and greater productivity in the long run.
  5. Hold clear boundaries. Don’t agree to things just to get the other person to back off. If things feel physically threatening, leave immediately. If they feel emotionally inappropriate or threatening, just say, in as calm a voice as you can muster, something like, “This doesn’t seem to be a good time to discuss this. Let’s try again when we’re both in a better place.” Or you can say, “I’m going to leave now.” It is important not to stay and try to have a discussion when either party is “off.”
  6. Allow things to be what they are. Focus on what’s important. There are certain people we know we cannot (and probably should not) change. In fact, most of the time, they are not ours to change. I often say this old Polish saying to myself, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys!”

Using these six tips can help you to stay cool, calm and connected. This means you will not only feel better but will enjoy more satisfaction, more creativity, and better relationships.