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Wherever you go, you’ll run into difficult people. We know the sort. Think of the bullies, passive-aggressive personalities, snipers, negative nellies, blamers, yes-people and know-it-all’s you’ve run into. Then there are the micro-managers, the jealous co-workers or the boundary breakers who don’t know where to draw the line. Then you’ve got the drama queens and the people who go off their heads about anything. Not to mention the chronic panic merchants. How many of us have run into people who are aggressive and just downright rude. Then you have the people who are just passive, the ones who say nothing, do as they’re told and never actually tell you what they want. Not to be confused with the passive aggressive types who express their unbridled anger by being obnoxious, or sabotaging projects or who sulk, make mistakes (accidentally on purpose), make sarcastic comments or run people down behind their backs and make them the butt of jokes.

How do you manage that?

The most obvious approach is to bring them in for a chat and explore what’s going on. This has to be handled carefully. Here are some strategies to manage the conversation

  • Keep your cool: This is important. You have to keep it in perspective. Your time is valuable so don’t waste it by trying to change that person. And don’t try beating that person at their own game. Remember, they have developed these skills over many years. You’re just an amateur. Also, their bad behaviour is not about you so don’t interpret it as a personal attack. And assess the situation. Maybe they’re tired or just having an off day.
  • Separate the issue from the person: This is a technique used by the best negotiators. There are two issues at play here: your relationship with the person and the issue being discussed. Focus on the issue and separate them from what’s being discussed. This will allow you to be soft, even generous, with the person which will help you connect. Use humour where you can, it’s a great neutraliser of tensions.
  • Listen attentively: That means letting them blow off some steam, even if it’s out of line. They have to feel they’re being heard. That’s a good way to move forward. Still, it’s important to set a time limit for the venting.
  • Put yourself in their shoes: This is what great negotiators do. When you try to think like them, you start to see where they are coming from. Seeing things from their point of view allows you to change perspective. And that’s when you start coming up with mutually acceptable solutions
  • Create a bond: Find something you can agree on. It might be something completely different. It doesn’t matter, what’s important is you have found some common ground. That will make it easier to work together.
  •  Mutually acceptable solutions: Make this your goal.  Finding something that puts you both on the same team is a big step to resolving the problem. It also puts them on notice that they now have to fulfil their end of the bargain.

Managing difficult people is probably the toughest job for any manager. We hope this roadmap provides with some actionable tips when you're faced with your next “difficult encounter”.

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