Dealing with difficult people is the ultimate test of our interpersonal skills – it’s easy to be nice to those who are nice to us and when everything is going well, but it’s harder to keep our cool with those who rub us up the wrong way and when everything is going wrong.
Dealing with difficult people is part of some job roles – for those who work in the emergency services, or in an organisation where there are frequent complaints, or where the people are getting upset because of their own stressful situations, for example.
If it’s your job to deal with difficult people, chances are that you’ve learned not to take it personally and that you’re skilled in defusing the situation.
All of us, though, have to deal with difficult people sometimes. It might be a colleague, client, or, dare I say it – the boss!
We can often change the way we relate to someone by understanding how easy it is to make assumptions about why people are doing things – and we might well be wrong sometimes. I love this story:
‘At the airport after a tiring business trip a lady’s return flight was delayed. She went to the airport shop, bought a book, a coffee and a small packet containing five gingernut biscuits. The airport was crowded and she found a seat in the lounge, next to a stranger. After a few minutes’ reading she became absorbed in her book. She took a biscuit from the packet and began to drink her coffee. To her great surprise, the stranger in the next seat calmly took one of the biscuits and ate it. Stunned, she couldn’t bring herself to say anything, nor even to look at the stranger. Nervously she continued reading. After a few minutes she slowly picked up and ate the third biscuit. Incredibly, the stranger took the fourth gingernut and ate it, then to the woman’s amazement, he picked up the packet and offered her the last biscuit. This being too much to tolerate, the lady angrily picked up her belongings, gave the stranger an indignant scowl and marched off to the boarding gate, where her flight was now ready. Flustered and enraged, she reached inside her bag for her boarding ticket, and found her unopened packet of gingernuts…’ From Business Balls
Trying to see things from the other person’s point of view is at the heart of interpersonal skills – we don’t have to agree or like what they’re doing and we have every right to challenge it, but we stand more of a chance of doing that in a professional and effective way if we can understand where they’re coming from.
I’ve discovered that I’m a difficult person too – I don’t want to be and I don’t mean to be, but I know that I have plenty of faults and probably annoy people unintentionally. I’m grateful when people are tolerant of my weaknesses and that spurs me on to work on being more tolerant of theirs.