How to Handle Difficult People Without Getting Angry

5 Things You Can Do Next Time You Find Yourself in an Unpleasant Situation

Whenever we’re in a situation that is unpleasant due to someone being difficult or uncooperative, it can trigger a number of emotions.

These emotions can include anger, resentment, discomfort, fear, embarrassment or disappointment.

While it can be easy to let others affect our emotional state, if we have adequate tools to deal with difficult people or situations, we’ll have a much better chance of managing our emotions appropriately.

Since we interact with people all the time, knowing what to do or what to say whenever we’re dealing with someone difficult, will allow us to focus on what we need to do, without getting caught up in the other person’s drama.

In my previous manufacturing career, the company I worked for had a sales manager who would get angry whenever there were delays with customer orders. It didn’t matter if there were valid reasons for delays such unexpected machinery breakdown, or if there were traffic delays on the road while delivering products to customers.

This sales manager had a reputation of being difficult to reason with and he wasn’t the most approachable person in the company.

On one occasion, there was a delay with delivery to a major customer and resulted in the customer giving him a call to find out why their delivery was delayed. The sales manager called the delivery manager at the time to find out what was going on.

As he was not happy with the reason he was given, be verbally abused the delivery manager over the phone. Even though the delivery manager tried to explain that the customer order had left the site and the delivery truck was delayed in traffic, it didn’t matter.

That abusive phone call lasted around five minutes and after he hung up, the delivery manager informed the site manager what had happened.

A formal complaint was initiated, which led to a full investigation of the incident. It eventually led to a third party mediator being hired by the company to reach an acceptable resolution. The delivery manager was acknowledged for how he handled himself and the situation, without escalating it any further.

The sales manager was given a disciplinary warning and was told a repeat of a similar incident would result in his termination from the company. He apologised for his behaviour. The remainder of the time I was at the company, I did not witness another incident like that again.

5 Things You Can Do When Dealing With a Difficult Person

  1. Observe the situation instead of reacting. This includes noticing the emotions that are coming up for us. The best thing we do can initially is to remain calm, listen, not get attached to the person’s situation or drama, and to also avoid judging the person. The better we handle ourselves first, the better position we’ll be in to know what the best action to take is.
  2. Reorientate the situation from focusing on a problem to focusing on a solution. Sometimes people just want to be heard, so it’s okay on some occasions to hear a person out. What we should be listening for is their real issue or their hidden need, which may not be obvious initially. It’s valuable to know that most people will run out of steam within 20 minutes, so the question we can ask is, “What outcome do you want?”
  3. Set clear boundaries. If it’s something we cannot change or doesn’t involve us, then we have to redirect the other person to someone else. This is where we have to be courageous and let the person know that they should approach someone who can assist them with their situation and it does not concern us.
  4. Walk away if necessary. If a person is being difficult, one of the best things we can do is to choose to maintain self-care instead of being triggered by them. Walking away and leaving the situation, even for a short period of time, is powerful and is a sign that we will not let them affect our emotional state.
  5. Challenge their identity. Sometimes people are not aware of how they are coming across to others and all it can take to change their behaviour is to challenge them. Questions to ask that will challenge their identity includes, “How would your best self deal with what you are going through?” or “What is your current behaviour saying about who you are as a person?”

The best way to deal with difficult people is to be a positive influence or role model ourselves first. We have to trust our ability to handle any situation or any difficult person. The more awareness we have about our own abilities and tendencies, the better placed we’ll be to deal with difficult people.

Action Step: Reflect on the last time you dealt with a difficult person. What do you think you would do differently now that you have more awareness around what you can do? Start applying these ideas whenever you’re in an unpleasant situation with someone.

Question: What are other things we can do to handle difficult people without getting angry?

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Neel Raman

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