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How to Handle a Difficult Person In Six Easy Steps

How to Handle a Difficult Person in Six Easy Steps

How to handle a difficult person in six easy steps

Do you know any difficult people? These are the people who you find difficult and who can cause your day to become more stressful. Do you have trouble handling them?

If you want a special method to help you to deal with these difficult people , then learn this simple six step technique:

  1. Listen.
  2. Reflect.
  3. Question.
  4. Answer.
  5. Confirm.
  6. Close.

Let's talk about each one in turn.

1. Listen

The first thing to do when you are facing a difficult person or difficult conversation is to listen. Listen without too much interruption to what the other person has to say.

Most people don't listen enough. Instead they talk too much and they argue. They get more emotional and louder. This makes a bad situation, even worse.

So, don't do that any more. Instead, bite your tongue and listen.

Listening has some major advantages:

  • Listening gives you time to gather your thoughts.
  • Listening gives the other person time to vent. And often, all the other person wants to do is to vent. By the time they have finished venting their feelings, with you listening, then they calm down and go away without you having to do anything more.
  • Listening allows you to gather information without giving any away.
  • Listening is complementary and respectful to the speaker. If the other person is angry, it could be that they feel they are not being listened to.
  • Listening has so many good things associated with it, it is good practice to keep listening for longer.
  • When you think it is time to stop listening, then move to step two.

2. Reflect back their feelings

Try to summarise and reflect back to them, the essence of their message. I often start with the phrase, "So, if I am reading you right, you are upset because you think..."

For example: "So if I am reading you right, you are upset because you think that we broke our promise to deliver the goods to you by this morning, is that it?"

Or "So, if I'm reading you right, you are upset because you think I did it wrong. Is that it?"

It is good to reflect back their message, for two reasons.

  1. It proves you were REALLY listening, and not just pretending.
  2. It shows you have empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand how other people feel and the reasons why. Empathy is good because it makes you seem to be more human.

Please note that you don't have to agree with anything the other person says, to empathise with the other persons feelings.

You can DISAGREE with everything the other has to say, and yet still be empathetic.

After you have reflected back their feelings, and empathized a little, then you get into step three.

3 Question down

Your task is to question the other person in order to separate the facts from the feelings.

When people are in conflict, they tend to be emotional and opinionated. You need to be able to separate the facts from the feelings; the facts from the opinions.

You need to verify exactly:

  • Who said what to whom?
  • Who did what to whom?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • And in what order?
  • What policies or agreements were in place at the time?

You need to try to get away from talking about feelings, derogatory opinions, and accusations and you need to get the conversation onto the "hard facts of the case".

It is only on the basis of the facts can you form an answer.

Once you have sorted the facts from the feelings, move to step four.

4. Answer

Once you have all the facts clear in your mind, then give the other person your best answer.

Ensure that your answer is based upon a logical evaluation of the facts. Don't let your answers be tinged by your own emotions of anger or dislike.

If you can make your response to the difficult person be a RATIONAL RESPONSE, based upon a LOGICAL evaluation of the facts, then you stand the greatest chance of gaining an agreement.

On the other hand, if you make your response to the difficult person an EMOTIONAL RESPONSE, based upon your instinctive (primitive) fight or flight mechanism, then you stand the greatest chance of making a bad situation, even worse.

Remember that your answer must be a fair and logical response to the situation. This means that you must be as objective, in your answer, as you can possibly be.

Once you have delivered your response you go to step five.

5. Confirm

Confirm their understanding of your answer. If you are lucky, the other person will agree with your logical answer to the problem.

If you are unlucky, they won't agree with your logical answer to the problem; and they come back at you.

If they come back at you, still not happy, then you go back to step one, listen. Then you reflect. Then you question them even more, then you may revise your answer.

You may need to repeat steps 1 to 4 until you get a solution that either:

  1. Represents your very best offer, whether or not they accept it as one they like.
  2. Represents a compromise that you both can live with.

Please note that you do not always have to end on an agreement. You may have to end on a non-agreement.

Remember that you don't always need to have the other person agree with you. But they must always understand you.

You don't need to agree with them, but you do need to understand them.

They need to understand exactly what your answer is, and they must understand why your answer is what it is.

Please note the difference between:

  1. An understanding, and
  2. An agreement.

Then move to step six.

6. Close

Once you have the agreement and/or an understanding, then close the conversation.

The mistake that some people make is to; resolve an issue and come to a shared understanding, and then they carry on talking about the same issue!

Sooner or later, someone says something that triggers the whole debate off, all over again.

Here is the rule:

  • Once you have gained an agreement, STOP TALKING.
  • Either leave the scene, put down the phone, or change the subject.
  • Close the conversation and move on to the next topic.

Summary of the six step method

Memorise this list and bear it in mind, the next time you need to handle a difficult person.

  1. Listen.
  2. Reflect.
  3. Question.
  4. Answer.
  5. Confirm.
  6. Close.

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Conflict Management Training

Conflict is inevitable, because people disagree. Therefore, you must be able to handle conflict situations effectively. You must know how to be assertive, clear and professional (not emotional, upset and angry) whilst in conflict. If you want to learn more on how to achieve this, please click here to see our conflict management training.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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Further Reading in Conflict Management and Handling Difficult People

  • How to Deal With Difficult Employees
    Whether difficult employees disagree with our current plan, or their behaviour is challenging, they should be treated according to the principles of reason. We examine the steps that should be taken when dealing with difficult people.
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    Giving constructive criticism Giving constructive criticism is one of the most important skills for the leader/ manager. Constructive criticism is criticism of a person's behaviour, work performance or idea, which is perceived by the receiver, to be more like help, or friendly guidance, rather than "a telling off". Constructive criticis...
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  • How to Deal with Conflict Situations
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    Every organisation has people who are difficult to work with. Handling these people can be challenging, but taking the time to learn how to deal with difficult people is worthwhile and will make your working environment a better place for everyone.
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