resolve conflict

May 5, 2015

How to Deal with Difficult People & Resolve Conflict Like a Pro

Today, I had a sudden, strong urge to actually scream at a stranger. Judge all you want, but I know I’m not the only one who’s had that anger provoking- yet puzzling- experience that usually begins with the thought:

“Is this really happening right now?”

Maybe you’re in traffic. Maybe you’re at Starbucks. Maybe you’re in the office lunchroom. Conflict happens, and it seems like some of us just never learned to deal with our issues like adults. (Clearly, I, myself, am a work in progress…)

Whether in your personal life, in your business dealings, or as you simply move through life, everyone experiences those unfortunate run-ins with people best labeled as “difficult”. I’ve only had the pleasure of existing on this big blue planet for a few decades, but I’ve had plenty of experiences to test my patience and self-control.

Today, I have developed a reliable strategy for dealing with difficult people and, more importantly, leaving a bad situation better than I found it. Remember: When dealing with a (momentarily) difficult person, you have the power. I dare you to choose to improve the outcome by taking a few simple steps.

1. Be objective. If you’re already secretly plotting your revenge, this will be nearly impossible. Don’t speak, don’t respond….just find your happy place, and try to stay there for as long as you can. Gather as much information as you can about what is happening and take one, big, hypothetical step back. It may be difficult, but it’s important that you view the situation as if you were a third party. Clouding the issue with your own personal beliefs, thoughts, or feelings will prevent you from taking an objective inventory of what exactly just happened.

2. Be compassionate. Even in the most rigid business settings, we should never leave our humanity at the door. Take a few moments to remember that you are dealing with a fellow human- one who likely has the same thoughts, feelings, and desires as you do. If you were able to objectively remove yourself from the situation, you can try to tap into the source of the other person’s frustration. Leading with compassion will ensure that you’re more equipped (ie. more willing) to find a mutual resolution.

3. Don’t take it personally. With the exception of your own personal experience, you have no way of knowing the conflicts or external pressures exerted upon any person. Maybe they have a sick child, maybe they just got some awful news- maybe. Hold onto that “maybe” and explore the possibility that you do not have all of the answers. Do more listening than talking, and try to get to the bottom of what is really going on. Even if you never uncover the personal details of their struggle, stay open to the idea that there may be underlying factors that you have absolutely nothing to do with.

4. Keep your ego out of it. While it can be tempting to retort with a demonstration of your intelligence or a similarly snarky remark, you won’t win in the long run by throwing your own dignity and grace out of the nearest window.  Take the high road. You’ll have a hard time finding a solution if that’s not what you’re looking for….

5. Some issues run deep. You’re not a therapist- and, for the record, neither am I. You’re just a person who is trying to make the best of a difficult situation. If someone becomes disrespectful (or worse), safeguard yourself and know that you handled yourself in the best way possible. It’s okay to draw a line in the sand regarding what you are willing to tolerate based upon your goals for the situation.

6. Be happy. Reinforce your own social circle with people you love to be around. The people you surround yourself with should energize you, build you up, and make the life a more pleasant place to be. The happier you are in your own life, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with that occasional “difficult” individual.

What is your experience in dealing with difficult people and situations? Have you been able to turn things around in a time of potential crisis?