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Tips and tricks for dealing with difficult people

“The only place where there are no human interaction problems is the place where there are no humans.” So declared a woman in her 90’s who had learned the truths of life and human relations.

Within the nonprofit sector, many layers of interactions give ample time to have to deal with difficult people. It could be the board members, other staff members, or, quite often the client being serviced who create hostile standoffs.

The first tip to dealing with difficult people is to take the situation and NOT make it personal. There are three methods of focus that allow one to not engage in the emotional eddy being created by the difficult person.

1. Realize “It’s their problem”. Everyone has emotional baggage and history that is not apparent. When someone is being difficult, theorize that it is their past experiences and disappointments that is driving the behavior. This way, there is no personalization of any insults or confrontation and no engagement in escalating the situation.

2. Life is but a comedy. Some seasoned negotiators say they imagine themselves the star of a sitcom. This allows them a chance to see humor in any given situation. With such mindset, it is easier to be witty and engaging, even in the face of adversity.

3. Other seasoned executives have shared that they envision themelves as gold-medal-winning emotions’ athlete. In their outlook, they challenge themselves to be able to leap gracefully over emotional hurdles and stretch compassion past barriers

With good intentions and visions, there is still a need for practical know-how in how to defuse situations. The following are some pointers on what to do when a difficult person is become volatile.

1. Empathize – give them back their points to them so they know they were heard and understood

2. Avoid “You” confrontations by avoiding you language which often is seen as accusatory.

3. Clearly state and restate any needed position in varied ways. Don’t repeat. Change the language and method of explanation. Try to explain simply, in as pleasant and plain of a language as possible.

4. Try to end on a positive note. This can be done either by finding a common point or by alluding to a future positive event or experience. Or by finding some compliment with which to end the interation.

Many of these pointers work wonders, but there are times when situations escalate beyond the parameters of normal interaction. Every organization should have policies and procedures in place to ensure safety of all involved.

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