Thinking about Your Opponent 4–Dealing with Difficult People

Summary of an essay by Terry Paulson, Ph.D.

Ten suggestions for dealing with difficult people:

1. “Talk to people instead of about them.”   Dr. Paulson recognizes that direct confrontation may be difficult but he observes that direct interaction can reduce misunderstanding and resentment.

2. “Avoid avoidance.”  The idea is not to put things off; deal with conflict as soon as it becomes a problem.

3. Focus on the future.  Because you don’t want to merely win an argument it is important to think about the changes you want to achieve and what the future will hold. A good negotiator is thinking about the future: relationships, performance, behaviors.

4. Deal with issues rather than personalities.  This advice is similar to the adage from the famous book Getting to Yes–separate the people from the problem. It is especially important to treat others with respect.

5. Explore the reasons for resistance and “push for specific suggestions.”  Paulson suggests that criticisms should be faced and explored, but he observes that if criticism continues it may be more than resistance to your ideas, it may be that you are wrong!  You should be able to recognize when you are wrong.

6. Care enough about other that you are willing to confront them.  Confronting others should be “timely and consistent.”  This means you should confront problems when they arise.  It also means you should not selectively confront.  The idea is to treat everyone in an equally caring way by being “firm, fair, and consistent.”

7. “Avoid forming enemy relationships.”  Paulson advises: “Even your most difficult person usually has some people they work with well.  Make one of those people you.  Don’t look for the worst, learn to look for the best in even difficult people.”  One thing to remember is that in most of our negotiations we will work with the same people again.

8. Build positive bridges to difficult people.  If you are having difficulties with someone, get to know them better.  Ask for their advice on a subject where they are expert; join with them in working on a common cause.

9. Keep your perspective.  Paulson advises that if none of these approaches work, it is important to remember  that many times the difficult behavior is transitory.  One way to keep perspective is to always be on the lookout for how you can get out of a situation.

10.  “Take time to look in the mirror.”  Paulson quotes Ron Zemke in saying “if you find that everywhere you go you’re always surrounded by jerks and you’re constantly being forced to strike back at them or correct their behavior, guess what?  You’re a jerk.”  Make sure you are not being difficult yourself.

From the essay entitled  “Dealing with Difficult People in a Changing World” by Terry Paulson, Ph.D. CSP, CPAE

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