Stress and emotional overload—two emotions that are common when dealing with difficult people. Don’t let them push your buttons. You need to prepare yourself before the encounter. After all, if you know someone is difficult, it shouldn’t surprise you when he acts up. You can often see the storm clouds building on the horizon, or maybe you can recognize that certain circumstances or situations are likely to trigger an outburst. Either way, you’ve got a pretty good idea when the difficult behavior is likely to show up, and that gives you the power to plan.
Try role playing. Ask someone to play the part of a difficult person you have to deal with. Explain to him what the difficult person’s behavior looks and sounds like. As you role-play, practice your response. If you mess up, start over again and keep rehearsing until the response feels natural. Try reversing the roles: You play the difficult person and let your partner respond to the behavior.
This approach will benefit you in two ways. First, you’ll be much more likely to stand up to the behavior and not be goaded into an inappropriate response, whether it’s getting angry in return or cowering under a tongue-lashing. Second, when your self-confidence increases, other people will feel it too. If the mean, nasty boss usually succeeds in flustering you, her success will reinforce the negative behavior. If, on the other hand, you’re calm, cool, and collected, you’ll often see less of the negative behavior in the first place. After all, people behave in negative and difficult ways because most of the time it works. If the behavior stops working with you, there’s a much better chance the behavior itself will stop—or at least lessen.
Effective communication can keep your team happy and effective. Become a better communicator with these AMA resources and seminars.
Michael S. Dobson (New York, NY) is a consultant and popular seminar leader in project management, communications, and personal success. He is the president of his own consulting firm whose clients include Calvin Klein Cosmetics and the Department of Health and Human Services. He is the author of several books including Managing Up (978-0-8144-7042-8).