By August 12, 2014 Read More →

#TalkBiz: Dealing with difficult people

Dealing with difficult peopleThe #TalkBiz theme continues today with a look at communicating with awkward people.

In my experience of business most people are reasonably easy to communicate with.

Some are an absolute joy, and just occasionally you’ll meet someone who is a nightmare.

So how far is it worth trying to go in dealing with difficult people?

Isn’t it interesting how a silence on the other end of the phone can clearly tell you whether someone is thinking over what you’ve just said, or simply rejecting it out of hand?

I’ve just had this experience, fortunately not in business, but regarding an issue I’m trying to resolve for my parents, and I was taken aback by how much those silences communicated.

Dealing with difficult people is an inevitable part of running a business, and a knack that’s really handy to learn. My partner A is a coach who’s accredited to work with Insights Discovery personal profiles, and I’ve had a couple of profiles done over the years, which have helped a lot.

Your profile provides a lot of information on how you operate, including how you communicate. It’s an eye-opener too about the way other people behave and makes you realise that usually they aren’t deliberately trying to make your life harder, they’re just different.

For example, I once had a boss with a very high preference for red (go-getting) energy who was unable to comprehend that the whole team wasn’t instantly convinced when she had one of her brilliant ideas. It was impossible to discuss any doubts without being perceived as letting the side down, which was bad for morale and team spirit.

On the other hand, I’ve known people who are so high on green (supportive) energy that they never got much done because they were so concerned that everyone should be fully behind them and not negatively affected in any way.

Once you understand how people are functioning it takes a lot of conflict out of the situation, and you can immediately see how you might adapt your natural approach when you communicate with them.

But occasionally you’ll come across someone who is just downright unreasonable. My sister has had years of experience of dealing with difficult people and situations in the police and she says, ‘The trouble with unreasonable people is that they have a knack of making you feel unreasonable.’

So true, you can waste lots of time tying yourself up in knots regretting what you’ve said and thinking of ways to try and get through to them. They can start to dominate your thoughts and make you feel miserable.

The more you try to be tolerant the more outrageous their behaviour becomes. And in fact they will be unreasonable whatever you do or say, so I’ve concluded that the only way of dealing with difficult people like that is to have as little to do with them as you can, and if possible cut them out of your life.

No need to make a fuss, or pander to their need for drama by being rude or falling out, just politely refuse to engage and put as much distance as you can between you.

Not easy where clients are concerned, but if you feel you have tried everything, bent over backwards and they are still making unreasonable demands, then ending your business relationship might be much more valuable for your peace of mind than the amount they contribute to your business account.

I did this a couple of times when I was running my cleaning business, and each time it was a difficult decision, but it didn’t have the dire consequences we often fear when we consider turning down work. And in fact, when I ended the contract with one of my biggest clients, who had been taken over by an organisation with a different culture, another even bigger client approached me within a few weeks and were straightforward to deal with.

What is your experience of dealing with difficult people?
Do you have a strategy or do you agree that sometimes it’s best just to withdraw?

Posted in: Health

8 Comments on "#TalkBiz: Dealing with difficult people"

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  1. Annette says:

    Judy, I can’t imagine a freelancer that can’t relate to this scenario at one time or another! I keep notes about everything (and I mean everything!) because an unreasonable client will fabricate scenarios or conversations that never actually happened giving them “reason” to start a negative ball rolling. If things reach a point where you realise you are not working towards the same goal – it’s time to revisit your original agreements, explain clearly how you have met your side of the bargain, and walk away. There will be a much more fruitful experience waiting for you elsewhere 🙂

    • I hear the voice of experience, Annette! I wondered whether to mention the ‘fabrication’ bit but decided not to elaborate further than ‘outrageous’ as it might sound over the top. But you’re right, I have experienced someone telling me something totally untrue about an event I actually witnessed, and it’s very hard to know how to respond when all you can think is ‘That’s a lie’. Good idea to have a record for your own peace of mind, whilst realising they might well deny what you’re saying 🙁

  2. There’s a NLP process for dealing with difficult people that I’ve used myself, as well as with clients (I wrote a blog post about it a while ago). Called Perceptual Positions it can be very helpful for seeing what’s going on in a particular relationship (personal or professional), because you look at the situation from the other person’s viewpoint as well as your own – and from a complete outsider’s perspective.

    I’m not saying it will solve an intractable situation, but sometimes it can be enough to make you realise it IS intractable and that you need to get out! But it can also throw light on what’s going wrong or where the misunderstanding is coming from and lead to solutions.

  3. I deal with difficult clients on a regular basis. Most of them understand when you take the time to explain everything, but it can get iffy.

    Usually, I do as you suggested. I politely respond but take my distance slowly but surely.

    At the end of the day, a business owner has to see the big picture. Saying no will eventually lead to great opportunities!

    Thank you for the article!

    • One of the joys of running your own business is being able to choose who you work with, and sometimes that means saying goodbye to a client! Like you, Cendrine, I believe that having the courage to end a difficult business relationship creates a space for someone else you will enjoy working with.

  4. Lisa Thompson says:

    Very thoughtful piece Judy. It got me thinking whether I’d been right to walk away from (I like to think ‘fire’) a particular client last year due to the outrageously rude (consistently but worsening) behaviour of one senior manager or whether I should have tried to rise above it. That took two seconds – my income has slumped (they’d been hurling more work at me than I could handle, albeit a lot unpaid) but every day I delight in knowing that I will never ever again have to deal with that sub-human obscenity.

    • Somehow I think you made the right decision! I’m tempted to retitle the post Dealing with a Sb-Human Obscenity but it may not be a very popular keyword. On the other hand, judging from the number of replies from people in the same situation…