Category Archives: Conflict Resolution

Dealing With Difficult People: A Template

“I am thankful for all the difficult people in my life, for they have shown me whom I do not want to be.”Young couple standing back to back having relationship difficult

In our last blog, we promised a template to help you deal with ‘difficult’ people.  Here it is.

Don’t take it personally!  This can be quite a challenge, but try to realise that in many situations you are the ‘bunny’ representing the organisation to a very unhappy, frustrated, angry or ‘difficult’ customer.  They have a strong need to vent their feelings, and you just happen to be the person there at the time!

Develop a partnership mindset.  Instead of seeing the other person as the ‘enemy’, try to see yourselves as partners in a problem-solving exercise, looking for a positive outcome.  It’s amazing how differently they can respond if you respond with this mindset.

Breathe!  When we become stressed, we tend to breathe very shallowly.  Breathing deeply can reduce some of this stress.

Change negative self-talk to positive self-talk . What are you telling yourself?  “This is terrible!”  “Why does it always have to be me?” and so on?    Change it to something like “I can deal with this”, “We can get a positive outcome here”, and so on.

Be creative in exploring options for solving the problem.  There is a problem-solving technique called Appreciative Enquiry, which gets us to look at what has worked up till now and build on that, rather than focussing on the problem and looking for options to fix it.   Work together to find creative solutions to the problem/issues.

Empathise with the other person, and demonstrate active listening skills.  Acknowledge where they’re coming from.  A simple acknowledgement, e.g. “that must be very frustrating for you” can go a long way toward calming the other person down.

Give the other person a few minutes to ‘vent their spleen’ and calm down.  When another person is very upset, it is difficult to have a rational discussion and to resolve the issue. Allow them to express what’s going on for them before you jump in.

When necessary, take time out, and/or debrief with someone supportive.  Dealing with ‘difficult’ people can be very stressful.  Talk to someone who really does care!

You may ultimately need to be assertive and stand up for your rights or emphatically state your boundaries.  If the other person continues to be belligerent or very unreasonable despite your doing all of the above, you need to be very firm.  You ultimately have a right and a need to be treated with respect.

By carrying out the above practices, there is a strong chance that the outcomes will be very different, whether it’s with customers, work colleagues, your boss, friends, family, or whoever.   You may even find that the theme of your interactions could change from difficult people dealing with difficult people to reasonable people dealing with reasonable people!

 How effectively do you deal with difficult people?  Which of the above tips would help you to deal more effectively with them? 

Narayan and Tulsi



Difficult People Dealing With Difficult People!

 “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.”Businessman shouting at the phone

We all have to deal with ‘difficult’ people in one form or another.  This word is in inverted commas because it is quite subjective.  If I have a strong view about an issue and you don’t agree with me, I may be calling you difficult.  Then again, you may also be calling me difficult.  I was given the workshop topic by a client who asked me to provide some training in this area for them.  It was Difficult People Dealing With Difficult People!

I thought the title rather quaint – hence the title of this blog. It also embodies some truth, since both parties in a conflict might find the other person difficult.   The sad fact is that most people aren’t adept at resolving conflict.

People whom we respect can have mannerisms, attitudes or behaviours that we see as foibles or even endearing.  We are quick to forgive them for these traits.  On the other hand, people whom we don’t respect or are getting in the road of achieving our objectives don’t have to do much at all for us to react negatively.  It is so easy to project our fears, values, dislikes, etc. onto others and not realise that this is what we’re doing.  A key challenge is to become aware of this and to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, in more constructive ways.

I recently delivered some ‘Dealing With Difficult People’ workshops for council staff who have to enforce the law, such as Rangers who have the unenviable job of issuing parking tickets.  You will probably appreciate that no one likes receiving a fine (the word ‘fine’ is a bit of a misnomer – fine as a revenue earner for councils but not so fine for people receiving them).

You will probably also understand that members of the public have a clear way of letting the rangers and other law enforcement officers know that they are not happy!  Some can be very aggressive.  In the workshops, I challenged the participants to try and see it from the other person’s perspective, without reneging on their duties.  In other words, they should try to both feel and demonstrate empathy (as compared with apathy or sympathy – over-identification).  I also taught the participants to be assertive rather than aggressive or submissive.

The positive end result of these workshops was that most participants recognised there was scope for them to remain professional, empathic and assertive, while carrying out their jobs.

The next blog will provide a template which we have used in our workshops, and which participants have reported to be very helpful in dealing with ‘difficult’ people.

Are you one of those difficult people that others are challenged by and go to workshop training for, to learn how to deal better with you?!?

Narayan van de Graaff