Lately, I’ve had my fare share of “dealing with difficult people”. Although it is good to keep one on their toes, it also makes you take a step back and think about strategies for improvement:

  1. Listen – as much as it’s possible that what is being said doesn’t make sense and seems like a waste of time, the key to making progress is to initially give the other party the benefit of listening. Make sure they know you’ve heard them – repeat back what you’ve heard/ understood about their goals, etc. Typically, people are more prone to listening when they feel understood.
  2. Count to 10 before responding – this sounds silly but silence is fine. It is far preferred to have silence, which gives both parties time to think and calm down than it does to talk above each other, make no progress and be frustrated (of course, this is easier said than done, but give it a shot). In those 10 seconds, you have time to rephrase what you’ve heard and search for common ground.
  3. Common ground – no matter how small or hard to find, do your best to find common ground. It is much easier to begin to make progress when you have somewhere to start.
  4. “Thanks for the information” – this tool is quite helpful when you are in a situation where someone is providing all sorts of information that you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make sense, doesn’t relate etc. Instead of moving further away from “common ground”, simply say, “Thanks for the information”. The next time they have information to provide, it could be critical to you – and, you’ll want them to feel compelled to provide it!
  5. Isolate the source of disagreement to the objective or the alternative – For example, there might be disagreement as to whether the reduction of inventory is an important objective. The other party might think supplier programs are the priority. In this case, it is a waste of time to debate the methods to reduce inventory because you don’t have agreement on the objective. It is surprising how many times endless amounts of time is spent debating alternatives when the objective has not been agreed upon. On the other hand, if inventory reduction is the objective, you might focus on whether you think tools, people, or systems will help achieve the objective. Clarify your objective and then move to alternatives.
  6. Don’t be a wet rag – if you are being mistreated, respond respectfully but powerfully, ‘no’.