One tip for … Dealing with difficult people

From time to time we come across difficult people – particularly when we are seeking to negotiate an agreement, whether it be commercial or simply something that needs agreement in the workplace.

Difficult is not the same as irrational. Irrational behaviour is when they make choices that harms their interests in order to get the better of you. Mostly people don’t seek to harm themselves, though we often find that choices do self-harm because they don’t know how to make better choices. We will deal with those circumstances in another piece.

The most common difficult trait is the hardcore personality: hostile, abusive, intimidating, and overbearing. They always tend to be right, often aggressive and challenge you if you cross them. I find these types the most emotionally difficult, causing me to question myself and my hackles rise. It’s unhelpful.

My response, these days, is built on the knowledge that they can’t actually hurt me. So don’t let their behaviour worry you, let the behaviour wash over you, like the water over the ducks back. Their behaviour defines them, not you.

But there are others:

  • the passively aggressive who takes pot-shots, often using sarcasm disguised as humour. They direct criticism but avoid confrontation so they are difficult to draw to a conclusion.
  • those who simply see everything as a negative and are distrusting, and therefore reject every solution you offer, and
  • those who simply don’t participate. It’s like dealing with a jellyfish. Wherever you touch it, it simply moves away and reforms.

Like it or not you have to find a way to deal with these people. Sound strategies and good offers addressing their interests is just not enough. Dealing with the difficult personality is challenging, here’s a mnemonic I have found useful:

  • be Brief. Don’t engage in long conversations, simply put your position on the table for it to be understood.
  • be Informative. Give the detail that they need. Don’t hide things, don’t try to be clever, be transparent.
  • be Factual. Use the facts to your advantage – you can’t argue or negotiate facts, they stand alone.
  • and be Friendly. Don’t rise to the bait, don’t let your emotions take control and if you still do start to feel yourself becoming tense take a break and come back to the conversation.

There are many other things that you can do, many books written on the subject, great strategies for dealing with the difficult, but one easy thing you can do is BIFF them.