difficult people metaphor of Dwight from the show "The Office" staring at camera

Difficult People: Oh How We Love Them

We all have to deal with difficult people at some point. Entrepreneurs will likely deal with far more difficult people than they might expect, simply because people in a powerful position have a tendency of being difficult. Whether at work, in line at the post office, or on stage defending your business idea, we will inevitably meet that difficult person who gets under our skin. Sometimes they can be confrontational, other times they can be resistant. Either way, they can often push our patience to the limit. So the question is, how do we deal with difficult people?

In an article titled Dealing With “Difficult” People, published in the Journal of Health Care Management, management professor Dr. Paul Preston shares 9 strategies to help deal with difficult people. They are paraphrased below:

  1. Give back what you take – Difficult people tend to only respect people they believe are as tough (difficult) as they are. Be firm and direct about your stance, but also know there will be times when you must agree and/or cease opposition.
  2. Master the details – Difficult people are often detail oriented, so do your homework ahead of time and be prepared with the appropriate response in an argument.
  3. Be aware of emotional responses – Difficult people often exploit people’s emotions. Even if you have strong emotions during a confrontation, keep those emotions in check to maintain control.
  4. Never admit to having the final authority – This will prevent you from making a premature commitment. Even if you have the final authority, don’t admit this as it will allow you to be more flexible in negotiating.
  5. Listen actively and carefully Listen empathetically, and in a way that conveys understanding of the other person’s perspective (even if you disagree). Always pay close attention to the difficult person’s concerns and objectives.
  6. Expect pleasant conflicts – Know that some difficult people can be pleasant and charming, but they are still trying to take advantage of you.

    difficult people
    Photo: expertbeacon.com
  7. Be patient – More time can help create pressure on your opponent, it can also depressurize a tense situation.
  8. Check your response to negative feedback – When someone gives you negative feedback, don’t try and reciprocate with more negative feedback or by raising your voice. Instead thank them for expressing their opinion and calmly state whether you agree or not. This closely relates to being aware of emotional responses.
  9. Prevent “loss of face” – Being respectful of the other person’s opinions, whether you agree or not, is the best way to keep face. Even if you failed to persuade a difficult person, showing acceptance of their opinion is not the same as showing agreement and can help you move away from conflict (even if only for awhile).

These tips obviously can take some practice, especially if difficult people have a habit of easily pissing you off. For me personally, I can be MUCH more patient with people when I know I can vent at a later time…like when I’m writing a blog. The real question is what are you going to do that works for you?

Do you have a difficult person you would like to indirectly vent about? By all means, share in the comments below.