Communicating with a Difficult Person

Are you struggling to deal with a difficult boss? Or is there a co-worker you struggle to relate to in your organisation? Each of us can probably think of at least one difficult personality we’ve had to deal with!


Finding positive ways to deal with difficult relationships isn't easy. But don’t succumb to handing in your resignation letter just yet! The good news is that by putting strategies in place, it‘s possible to effectively manage the situation.

Keep reading to learn how :)



Dealing with Difficult Situations


A difficult person can be your boss, your co-worker, or anyone else. They behave in a way that is disruptive to business or life outside of work. In a work setting, often the functioning of a team is disturbed leading to a disruption of the work flow, flared tempers, and gossip. The bottom line is that work suffers and difficult situations cost businesses money.


To deal with difficult people, we innately try to apply coping filters, such as:

  • Removing virtually all positive attributes about the person. (“He was my worst hiring mistake…”)

  • Defaming them. (Building consensus with others against the person)

  • Explaining the person in negative terms.

Anger also plays a big part; feeling angry, we instinctively use anger to try to manage the situation.


Key Tactics for Breaking the Cycle of Negativity

Three strategies will help you gather facts and use targeted strategies to deal with the person or the situation.


Strategy 1: Active Listening

The first tactic, and possibly the most important, is to listen empathetically, which is listening while trying to be sensitive to the various components and levels of the message. Try to listen for the following information:


  • The Why: Why is the person communicating with me?

  • The Length: What can the size of the message tell me about the importance of the message to the person?

  • The Words: Does the person use formal, aloof language? Impatience?

  • The Volume and Pace: What emotional pressures can be sensed?


Strategy 2: Note Taking after a Discussion

A second tactic is to write down your recollection of the discussion that just took place. The notes can be used to support your next communication with the difficult person. Note taking also gives you the opportunity to plan and organise before the next communication takes place.


Strategy 3: Writing Your Communication

Putting your communication into writing has three important benefits:


• The difficult person cannot interrupt with an objection

• It’s easier to provide orderly communication in writing than in a discussion

• Written communication is pure; there is no body language to shape the outcome, reducing the possibility of mixed messages.


Show respect even to people who don't deserve it: not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours. Dave Willis

Over to You

To break the cycle of negativity, take time to answer the following questions:

  • What observable behaviours or statements did the person perform or say?

  • What is the most positive interpretation an outside witness would make? The most negative?

  • What will you gain by interpreting the difficult person’s actions or words in as positive a light as possible?

  • What would you do or say when you respond to the difficult person if you viewed his or her actions in a positive light? What is stopping you from responding this way?


Take Action

Would you like to improve your career and personal life with increased communication skills that equip you to break the cycle of negativity?


Join us for an online introductory coaching strategy session where we can develop a plan together and get on track towards your ultimate success.


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