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10 Tips For Communicating With A Difficult Person

Communicating with a difficult person can be challenging to say the least! It feels like they're being unreasonable, defensive and not think rationally. But fear not! Communicating with them isn't a lost cause. There are lotd of strategies you can employ to navigate the situation more effectively. Remember, you can only control your communication, not others'. Here are 10 tips to get your side of the conversation back under control.

  1. Take a few seconds before responding & remain calm: I know it sounds obvious, but if we react instantly, the problem is never going to descalate. The amygdala is the part of our brain which controls our fight or flight response (that rapid reaction, we're wanting to avoid) and it will kick into action immediately if we allow it to. Of course this response can help people in immediate physical danger to react quickly for their safety and security, however that fight or flight response is more likely to make communicating with a difficult person worse. It's usually triggered by emotions such as stress, fear, anxiety, aggression, and anger. It's so important to remain composed and level-headed when dealing with a difficult person. You're more likely to get a clear and fair point across. Getting emotionally reactive can escalate the situation further. Take deep breaths and maintain your composure until the reasoning, thinking, decision-making, and rational part of our brain kicks in. It takes a good few seconds for this to happen when we're being mindful in the moment. Be patient.

  2. Listen actively: As much as you might not want to, give the difficult person your full attention and listen actively to what they have to say. Show that you value their perspective by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and using verbal cues to indicate understanding. When responding, summarise what you've just heard them say, feeding back to them some of the words they've used. This will make them feel like you're really listening to them.

  3. Empathise: Try to understand the underlying emotions and motivations behind the difficult person's behavior. Put yourself in their shoes and consider their point of view. Empathy can help defuse tensions and build a connection. Deep down a core value has not been met on their part. Seek to understand why they're being tricky, rahter than just look at the surface level behaviour.

  4. Choose your words carefully: Be mindful of your language and tone. Use "I" statements to express your thoughts and feelings without blaming or accusing the other person. Be respectful, avoid using confrontational, aggressive language or sweeping generalisations. They may be speaking to you in an agry tone. Using that back isn't going to be useful. Firm but calm is fine, Even an informative tone - just stick to the facts. Don't try and go for a relaxed tone in this instance as it could annoy the person even more and they may believe you're not taking what they're saying seriously.

  5. Seek common ground: Look for areas of agreement or shared goals. Focus on finding common interests or objectives that you can build upon. This can help establish a foundation for constructive conversation and problem-solving.

  6. Set boundaries: If the difficult person's behavior becomes disrespectful or abusive, it's crucial to establish clear boundaries. Calmly assert your limits and communicate that you expect to be treated with respect. If necessary, remove yourself from the situation temporarily.

  7. Don't take it personally: Remember that the difficult person's behavior is likely a reflection of their own challenges or something going on with them. The thing they're getting annoyed is only a trigger for a bigger thing. Try not to internalise their negativity or let it affect your self-worth. Maintain your confidence and self-assurance throughout the interaction.

  8. Focus on solutions: Instead of dwelling on the problems, steer the conversation toward finding solutions. Collaborate with the difficult person to brainstorm ideas and work together toward resolving the issue at hand. Clarify at the end if each party is happy with the steps agreed to move forward.

  9. Take breaks when needed: If the conversation becomes too intense or unproductive, it's okay to take breaks. Stepping away from the situation temporarily can provide both parties with an opportunity to cool down and gather their thoughts. Again, nothing productive comes from one or both parties being heated and stressed.

  10. Seek support: If you find it consistently challenging to communicate with a difficult person, consider seeking advice or support from a trusted colleague, supervisor, or mentor. They may be able to offer insights or suggest alternative approaches.

Remember, not all difficult people can be reasoned with easily. It's important to prioritise your well-being and know when to disengage from toxic or unproductive interactions.

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