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6 Step Method to Handle Difficult People

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Posted 09 June 2014 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

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6 step method to handle difficult people

On occasion, you have to handle difficult people.
But there are two major contexts in which that can occur:

  1. When you are the one who is taking the initiative to speak first.
  2. When the other person is the one who is taking the initiative to speak first.

Meaning: you are minding your own business, when suddenly, WHAM! out of nowhere, an angry person appears and starts to give you grief.
That grief may be born out of something that you did wrong, or it might be born out of some complaint over poor service or over what someone else has said.

Whatever the initial cause of the problem, the angry person has taken you by surprise and you have to suddenly deal with this difficult person.

What to do???

How should I deal with a difficult person?

Here are the six steps to deal with the difficult person

Here is the method in brief. Read it, and then we will go through it step by step.

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

Let us go through the 6 conflict management steps, one by one.

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1. Listen

Listen without too much interruption.

Let the other person talk themselves out. Let them get it off their chest.
Don't argue. Just listen. Nod your head. Wait. Take some mental notes. Keep breathing.
After a while the other person will slow down and will ask you for a response.

2. Empathise

Show some empathy for the other person's feelings. Reflect back what you think is the essence of their complaint.
Say something like, "So if I am reading you correctly, you are angry because you have not received what you were promised, is that right?"

3. Question

Now you have got the emotions out of the way, it is time to uncover the facts.
Question the person to discover the facts behind the feelings.

What exactly has gone wrong?

What was the original agreement?

Made by whom?

With whom?


What exactly has happened since that time?

Get the facts straight.

4. Answer

When you have your facts straight, then give the best answer that your knowledge and company policy permits.
Tell them what you can do. Tell them what you cannot do.

Make sure the other person understands your answer. Note that they don't have to like your answer. They don't have to agree with your answer. But they must understand the reason for your answer.

5. Confirm understanding

Summarise your answer and check that the other person understands your answer.

You must make your answer clearly understandable and logically reasonable.

  • Be clear
  • Be logical

If they don't like your answer, go back to stage one and repeat stages 1 through to 5.

6. Close the conversation

Once the answer is understood and if agreement is gained, then close the conversation and move away from the difficult person.
Once an agreement is gained, DON'T KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT.

If you have an agreement, leave the scene.
If you have no agreement, then refers the complainant to the next level up the organisational hierarchy.
If you have an agreement but can't leave the scene, then change the subject of the conversation.
In any case, don't keep talking about the contentious topic.

Once you have an agreement, stop talking.

Summary of how to deal with difficult people.

Here is the six step method, in brief:

  1. Listen without interruption
  2. Empathise with their feelings
  3. Question down to get the facts
  4. Answer their complaint
  5. Confirm understanding of your answer. (If necessary return to point one)
  6. Close the conversation

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