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Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

A little different approach to dealing with difficult people.

I wrote the following brief article, published this past week, on February 28th, in the Business Section of the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester NY. It offers a bit of a different approach to dealing with “difficult” people. Your experience and comments are welcome.
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You may be culpable in that “difficult” relationship
by Donna Rawady

It may be surprising to know that most people who are perceived as difficult are the last to realize it. In my work, I often have the opportunity to hear all sides of a problem or conflict. Based on this experience, I’m confident that 9 times out of 10, even in the center of a conflict, people are not calculating, malicious, or untrustworthy. They’re simply focused on their perspective of the problem and how it affects their experience. Combine that with less-than-savvy communication skills, and the “difficult” label may easily be applied to an individual.

If you’re on what you perceive as the receiving end of the ‘difficult person’ label, you may feel misunderstood, mistreated, or ignored, and if so, it’s natural to become defensive. This defense mechanism becomes a contributing factor to failing working relationships.

With that in mind, when you’re either approaching or avoiding someone you deem as difficult, begin by asking yourself a key question: “What contribution might I personally be making to the very dynamics that are upsetting me?”

Consider the following:

– In the best of circumstances, and more importantly in the middle of either overt or covert conflict, assume all parties to the conflict have the best of intentions. Although it may be tough, it’s one thing you can do to begin to move the relationship in a better direction.

– Offer your perspective honestly and tactfully. Be respectful and make a genuine effort to guard the self-esteem of all involved in the conflict.

– Check your motive for the conversation. Be sure your motive includes your desire to create a stronger working relationship and a positive business impact.

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2 Comments»

  Judy Dobles (@Judy_Dobles) wrote @

Interaction is a two-way street. Stop and think about things from the other person’s perspective first. It is not wise to take on the role of the victim.

  Anne Marie wrote @

Donna, I truly learned this exact lesson in running my cobbler business.
Many people came in with what I perceived to be “an attitude” and I learned to accept this as a challenge to not only help them with the work they brought my way, but to forge a strong continuing “work” relationship.
It was amazing to see them come back time after time, eventually becoming my very best clients/customers.
To this day I receive
letters and cards from a few of these “difficult” people, nine years after closing my shop.
I found that “guarding the self esteem of all involved in the conflict” was the key, just as your article articulated.
Thanks so much for reinforcing my life lessons.
You are a joy in my life.


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