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Shifting Paradigms to Address ‘Difficult People’

I previously wrote a posting regarding labeling people as a ‘bully’ and my reaction when I hear this word used as a noun. The ‘Difficult People’ label is another one that causes me to cringe when I hear it used. The issue is that when we label people and pigeonhole them as a ‘problem’ it becomes very difficult to see beyond the label. People are much more complex than the labels we stick on them. Someone who is ‘difficult’ to you may be a beloved spouse, sibling, friend or teacher to someone else. Perhaps in someone else’s eyes, you are seen as the ‘difficult’ one.

Our conflict resolution work is based on some paradigm shifts: to a focus on the problem, not the person; to a focus on behaviours and their impact, not the person. I often repeat the adage there are no difficult people, just people displaying difficult behaviours because their needs have not been met.

Let’s shift and consider this as a difficult situation that needs to be resolved. How can we influence the behaviours of others to create a change?

Listen. Set aside time to sit down and find out what is going on for the other person. What’s underneath the behaviour that is important to that person? Shift from judgment to curiosity. Ask open questions. What is the value under there –respect? Communication? Transparency?

Use ‘I’ statements. Be clear about what you want and frame it in a manner that does not raise defenses.
As an example the statement;
‘You should show me more respect’   is almost guaranteed to have the opposite impact of your intention. The word ‘should’ conveys judgment and comes across as aggressive. It is also vague: there are many ways to ‘show respect’. Even if the other person tries to do what you want, their different idea of respect will continue to foster hostilities.

A shift:
‘When we’re presenting to the client and you disagree with me, I get worried because I think the client will lose trust in me. If you disagree, can we talk about it afterwards instead.’

The ‘I statement’ takes form in four steps:

1. Using ‘I’ Language allows you to express your own feeling, thoughts, needs, etc. in a non-confrontational manner. You can describe your experience without judgment or defensiveness.
The way I see it…
My experience has been…
My objective is…

2. We need to include descriptive language to accurately convey experiences or behaviours. Describe specific observable experiences and behaviours. Be clear and factual.
When you walked away, I …
When you point your finger and raise your voice, I …

3. We need to indicate the impact of the action or behaviour
I was frustrated.
My trust was broken.
I become annoyed.

4. We need to ask for what we want.
Next time can you…
I prefer if you …
Is it possible to ….

Try it out – practice is the only way to incorporate changes into our everyday actions. See what response you get and if you can create a shift in someone’s difficult behaviour.
The Workplace Fairness Institute works one-on-one with your employees to develop awareness and change behaviour.

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