Renée Evenson on 5 Easy Steps for Dealing With Difficult People

Photo of Renée Evenson, author of Powerful Phrases for Dealing With Difficult PeopleThe following is a guest post from Renée Evenson, author of Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People: Over 325 Ready-to-Use Words and Phrases for Working with Challenging Personalities.

No matter how hard you try to get along with everyone at work, some people are just downright difficult to deal with. Whether it’s a know-it-all, bully, brownnoser, slacker, whiner, or a boss who is abusive, controlling, incompetent, or overly reactive, how you deal with problems, personalities—and difficult people—can strengthen relationships, negatively affect relationships, or sever them completely. Learning the steps to effectively resolve conflict with people who are challenging will make your work relationships more satisfying and your work life more productive.

Consider the example of Cindy. She’s a fairly new employee who gets along well with her coworkers, except for one person—Samantha, who constantly criticizes her. Cindy feels the criticisms are unfounded, but she’s a passive person who is uncomfortable confronting conflict so she’s tried to ignore Samantha, hoping the criticisms would stop. That didn’t happen. The criticizing worsened to the point that Cindy felt physically sick and dreaded coming to work.

So what do you do when you work with people who make your life miserable? The worst thing you can do is to do nothing. Hoping a person will stop a negative behavior isn’t going to make that happen. Rather, doing nothing usually worsens the situation.

When you learn how to resolve problems by using effective communication strategies, you’ll gain confidence to deal with any difficult person in a positive, constructive manner. Learn the five-step approach below and incorporate powerful phrases and you’ll be viewed as an assertive person who isn’t afraid to deal with any difficult situation—or person.

Step 1: Think First
Before saying anything to the person, calm down and rein in your emotions. Take time to think about the situation and objectively look at it from the other person’s perspective. Focus on the problem rather than the personality. Then think through the conversation you want to have, including likely responses.

Cindy didn’t want to alienate Samantha, but to stop the behavior she knew she’d have to speak up, state how the criticizing made her feel, and explain how she expected to be treated in the future.

Step 2: Gain a Better Understanding
To change someone’s behavior, it’s important to open a constructive dialogue to help you better understand the person’s motivations. Use “I” phrases to describe how the behavior affected you and then ask the person to explain.

“Since I started working here, I feel that you criticize my work repeatedly. It really unnerves me and gets me off track. I’m wondering why you’re doing that.”

Step 3: Define the Problem
After giving the other person time to explain, say something like: “You see it this way… I see it this way…. Do you agree?” Offer a phrase of understanding to show that you identify with his or her vantage point. Then ask a question to ensure the person recognizes yours.

“Now I understand that you were only joking. But criticizing my work isn’t funny to me. Can you understand my point of view?”

Step 4: Offer Your Best Solution Be prepared to state a resolution and ask if the other person agrees to it. If the person doesn’t agree, ask for his or her suggestion on how to best resolve the issue. Keep the focus on finding the best solution, even if it isn’t what you proposed. Offer your proposal with a phrase of compromise; presenting an olive branch conveys that you value your relationship with the person.

“I respect your experience and knowledge and I’d like to know that I can come to you for help. But I’d also like you to refrain from criticizing my work.”

Step 5: Agree on the Resolution
Once you and the other person arrive at a solution, end the conversation on a positive note by offering a phrase of resolution to strengthen your relationship.

“I’m glad we talked this out, and I’m glad I can count on your help.”

Following these five steps may be uncomfortable at first, but the more you attempt to constructively deal with challenges head on, the easier it will be. Always keep your focus on communicating openly, constructively, and assertively. State how the behavior affected you. Ask the person to explain. Agree on your perspectives. Negotiate the best resolution. Say something positive about your relationship.

Effectively resolving conflict will increase your confidence, improve your communication skills, and ultimately make your work relationships more fulfilling.

Jacket image, Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult PeopleRenée Evenson is a business training consultant and writer specializing in organizational psychology in the workplace—the roles and relationships between customers, employees, and management. She is also the author of  and is also the author of Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service, Customer Service Training 101 and Customer Service Management Training 101.


One response to “Renée Evenson on 5 Easy Steps for Dealing With Difficult People

  1. Great post! Resolving conflict is an integral part of the being in the people business – which we’re all in. Looking forward to more insights like these!

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