7 Steps to Handling Conflict with Difficult People

If it’s painful for you to criticize someone, you’re safe in doing so. If you take pleasure in it, hold your tongue.

No one likes to work with a difficult person. In fact, when difficult people are out of the office with a cold, everyone back at work is praying they get pneumonia. Just kidding, but you get the point.

So what do you do? Let me suggest a reasoned, reasonable, and effective approach. Start with a question. Ask yourself if the difficult person causes more problems than he solves. If the answer is “yes,” face up to it before the difficulty expands.

Second, ask for a meeting. Say, “I’m having a serious problem. There are so many good things about your work, (and then find some positive, sincere things to praise) but I’m getting some complaints. Can you help me work it out?”

Third, describe the problem. Cite phone calls from customers or complaints from coworkers. Be specific. Just be sure your attacking the problem and not the person.

Fourth, let the difficult person know anyone can be difficult from time to time. No one’s perfect.

Fifth, identify the change that is needed. You can either offer the solution or ask the difficult person to suggest a solution. You may find that the solution offered by the difficult person is more demanding than your own solution. As you discuss possible solutions, you have to come to some agreement, of course. And you may have to settle for progress rather than a one-time, all encompassing solution.

Sixth, end the meeting by asking, “Do we have an agreement?” One or both of you should rephrase the agreement to make sure you’re both thinking the same thing. You don’t want any misunderstandings at this point.

Finally, set a time to follow up. Ask, “When can we get together to assess whether or not this solution is working?” You want to keep the issue on the important front burner until everything is okay.

Action:  Before you confront someone this week, write out the seven steps I just outlined. Write out what you’ll say and do at each step before you say and do it. That will maximize your chances of success.