Archive for July, 2016

How to Handle Difficult People

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

The path to success can be derailed by clashes with difficult people, and even if the clash isn’t disastrous, it can make your life very unpleasant. Everyone has a store of coping mechanisms that we resort to when we find ourselves in stressful situations.

Difficult people force us to fall back on our coping mechanisms. Some of us placate, others confront. Some balk, others become aggressive. When these first-response tactics don’t work, when a difficult person makes you tear your hair out in total frustration, you have to dig deeper into yourself and find a better strategy.

First of all, not every difficult person is the same. There are tyrants, curmudgeons, aggressors, the viciously competitive, and control freaks. A psychologist can outline how each beast might be tamed, but on a day-to-day basis, one can adopt a general approach that’s the same. It’s quite a simple strategy, actually, based on asking three questions.

1. Can I change the situation?

2. Do I have to put up with it instead?

3. Should I just walk away?

When you ask these questions in a rational frame of mind, you will be able to formulate a workable approach that is consistent and effective. Most people are prisoners of inconsistency. Think about the most difficult person in your life and how you have reacted to them over time. You’ll probably find that you sometimes put up with them, sometimes try to get them to change, and other times simply want to stay away. In other words, three tactics have merged in a messy way. You wind up sending mixed messages, and that’s never effective.

So let’s consider each of the three questions in turn.

1. Can I change the situation?

Not all difficult people are beyond change, even though they are stubborn and stuck in their behavior. But there’s a cardinal rule here that can’t be ignored. No one changes unless he wants to. Difficult people rarely want to. If you have a close rapport with the person, you might find a moment when you can sit down and have a candid discussion about the things that frustrate you. But be prepared with an exit strategy, because if your difficult person winds up resenting you for poking your nose where it doesn’t belong, trying to effect change can seriously backfire.

Your best chance of creating change occurs if the following things are present.

– You have a personal connection with the person.

– You have earned his respect.

– You’ve discreetly tested the waters and found her a bit open to change.

– You’ve received signals that he wants to change.

– You aren’t afraid or intimidated.

– The two of you are fairly equal in power. If the difficult person is in a dominant position, such as being your boss, your status is too imbalanced.

A final caveat. Difficult people aren’t going to change just to make you feel better. The worst chance of getting someone else to change occurs when you’re so angry, frustrated, and fed up that you lose your composure and demand change.

2. Do I have to put up with it instead?

When you can’t change a situation, only two options remain, either put up with it or walk away. Most of us aren’t very effective in getting someone else to change, so we adapt in various ways. We are experts at putting up with things. Adaptation isn’t bad per se; social life depends upon getting along with one another. It’s a reasonable assumption that if you have difficult people in your life right now – and who doesn’t? – you’ve learned to adapt. The real question is whether you are coping in a healthy or unhealthy way.

Look at the following lists and honestly ask yourself how well you are putting up with your difficult person.

Unhealthy:

– I keep quiet and let them have their way. It’s not worth fighting over.

– I complain behind their backs.

– I shut down emotionally.

– I don’t say what I really mean half the time, for fear of getting into trouble or losing control.

– I subtly signal my disapproval.

– I engage in endless arguments that no one wins.

– I have symptoms of stress (headache, knots in the stomach, insomnia, depression, and anxiety) but have decided to grin and bear it.

– I know i want to get out of this situation, but I keep convincing myself that I have to stick it out.

– I indulge in fantasies of revenge.

Healthy –

– I assess what works best for me and avoid what doesn’t.

– I approach the difficult person as rationally as possible.

– I don’t get into emotional drama with them.

– I make sure I am respected by them. I keep my dignity.

– I can see the insecurity that lies beneath the surface of their bad behavior.

– I don’t dwell on their behavior. I don’t complain behind their backs or lose sleep.

– I keep away from anyone who can’t handle the situation, the perpetual complainers, gossips, and connivers.

– My interaction with the difficult person has no hidden agenda, like revenge. We are here for mutual benefit, not psychodrama.

– I know I can walk away whenever I have to, so I don’t feel trapped.

– I can laugh behind this person’s back. I’m not intimidated or afraid.

– I feel genuine respect and admiration for what’s good in this person.

If your approach contains too many unhealthy ingredients, you shouldn’t stick around. You’re just rationalizing a hopeless situation. Your relationship with your difficult person isn’t productive for either of you.

3. Should I just walk away?

Difficult people generally wind up alone, embattled, and bitter. They create too much stress, and one by one, everyone in their lives walks away. But it can take an agonizingly long time to make this decision. The problem is attachment. The abused wife who can’t leave her violent husband, the worker who is afraid he can’t find another job, the underling who serves as a doormat for his boss – in almost every instance their reason for staying is emotional. Life isn’t meant to be clinically rational. Emotions are a rich part of our lives, and it’s mature to take the bitter with the sweet – up to a point.

Too many people stick around when they shouldn’t. The main exceptions are competitive types, who can’t bear to be dominated or made to look bad. They instinctively run away from situations that hurt their self-image. The other main personality types – dependent and controlling – will put up with a bad situation for a long time, far beyond what’s healthy. The point, in practical terms, is that you can’t wait until you’ve resolved all your issues with a difficult spouse, boss, boyfriend, buddy, colleague, or employee. Vacillation doesn’t make you a better or nicer person. You are treading water, hoping that the dreaded day will never come when you have to sever ties. The thought of separation causes you anxiety.

But as anxious as you feel, sometimes a rupture is the healthiest thing you can do. That’s the case if you have honestly confronted questions 1 and 2. If you know the difficult person isn’t going to change, and if you’ve examined the unhealthy and healthy choices involved in putting up with them, you have a good foundation for making the right choice: Do I stay or do I walk? I’m not promising that your decision will feel nice. It probably won’t. But it will be the right decision, the kind you will be able to look back on with a sigh of relief and recognition that moving on was healthy and productive.

Andrew Lepan

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13 Tools for Resolving Conflict in the Workplace, with Customers and in Life

Friday, July 15th, 2016

by Lee Jay Berman

Conflict happens. It is inevitable. It is going to happen whenever you have people with different expectations. This makes conflict management critical, whether avoiding arguments, disputes, lasting conflict or ultimately, litigation. Conflict can be avoided if steps are taken early in a discussion to diffuse anger and facilitate communication, and it can be resolved by applying a series of thoughtfully applied steps. As a full-time mediator and trainer in the fields of negotiation and conflict resolution, I see conflict in its final stages – full blown litigation or on the verge of it in pre-litigation mode. What I have learned in seeing these disputes for 10 years is that most of them could have been resolved in the earliest stages if the people involved applied some of the skills that mediators use to resolve conflict. And wouldn’t it be great if companies could resolve these disputes before each side spent hundreds of thousands in litigation costs, before the employee was terminated or before the customer or working relationship was gone forever? Here are some tools for avoiding and resolving disputes in the early stages, before they become full-blown conflicts:

1. Stay Calm.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Nothing gives one so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” The thing that leads to conflict is escalation. What starts people escalating is their anger. Most of us stop listening to understand as we get angry. Instead, we start listening in order to argue back. Remaining calm is essential for performing these tools. To remain calm, it helps to look at the big picture. If you think about it, most every dispute gets resolved eventually. So when conflict inevitably happens, it is helpful to stop and think that, chances are, it is going to be resolved eventually. As such, why not begin problem solving now? Finally, it is a fact that in our busy lives with rush hour traffic, cell phones, PDAs, overfilled e-mail boxes, too many clients and not enough support, that we are all a little more stressed than we would like to be. When a conflict arises, one of the most beneficial things you can do is to ask yourself, “What might I be bringing to the dispute?” We can usually look at another person and figure that maybe he/she had a conflict at home or that he/she has been under tremendous pressure. However, we are not usually self-aware enough to ask ourselves what we might have going on. It is important in avoiding later embarrassment by checking in with our own personal boiling point before responding.

2. Listen to Understand.

Now, picture a dispute in which you were recently involved. Maybe it was this morning leaving the house, with a co-worker or client or even with a family member. As you replay that experience, ask yourself how much listening was going on. My bet is that any listening was only being done to formulate an argument back to prove your point. When most of us get into a dispute, the first thing we do is stop listening. The only way to settle a dispute or solve any kind of a problem is to listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Perhaps they will surprise you with reason, or their point is actually true. In the mediations that I do, I often learn what people’s underlying interests are by letting them go on and on telling their perspective of an issue until they give me the one thing that is standing in the way of them resolving it. They may start out by degrading the product and personalizing it by saying those of us who delivered it are all incompetent, but I find that this is little more than their anger speaking. What they really want is their product fixed, not to insult us personally.

Psychologists tell us that anger is a secondary emotion and that it is usually triggered as a defense mechanism to cover up hurt or fear. When someone is angry, there is usually some hurt or fear that he/she is embarrassed about, or perhaps even unaware of because the anger is so all consuming. In order to diffuse people’s anger, you must listen to them. Hear them out. Let them go until they have run out of gas. Let them vent as long as they can until they begin to calm down. You then will see a person start to slow down some, and begin to feel safe enough to finally tell you that what frustrated him or her so much was that the salesperson never returned any phone calls, and/or the customer service person kept trying to place blame elsewhere, rather than taking responsibility and apologizing for the product being unacceptable.

The best thing you can do to get people to the point where they are willing to show some vulnerability and trust you with some of the real reasons why they are upset is to engage in “Active Listening.” Active listening means giving them active physical and verbal signs that you are with them and understand what they are saying. Simple things like nodding and saying, “Uh huh” or “OK, go on” can make the speaker feel as if his/her story is welcomed by you and that you want to continue. On the phone, people hear dead silence and cannot read your reaction to their complaints and thoughts. Given that we all sometimes fear the worst, people tend to shut down and stop feeling it is safe to continue telling their story.

My friend and colleague Jim Melamed, a divorce mediator and trainer based in Eugene, Ore., said: “You cannot effectively move toward conflict resolution until each participant experiences him/herself to be fully heard with regard to their perspective – what they want and why.” That means, if someone says that the product he/she bought from you is unacceptable, and they are interrupted and asked what would be acceptable before they have finished telling all about the problem, that person gets the message that all you want to do is fix the problem. The impression is that you do not care about them or the problem you had with your product, and that can feel a little like being swept under the carpet. A good customer service person in a situation like this would let the client finish before asking if there were any other problems. This may seem counter-intuitive because it might bring on even more of the same, but this is what you want. People build trust as they are listened to. If they had another problem with the delivery timing or any other facet of the transaction, this is when you need to hear it – at the outset, not later once you feel as if you have met all of their original concerns. The only way to solve a problem is to get all of the broken pieces on the table at once before you begin trying to “glue it back together.”

The most useful phrases in this part of the process (what mediators call the “Opening Statement”) are questions such as, “Can I ask you – what about that bothered you so much?” or “What about that was so important to you?” These invite people to go deeper into the problem and tell you what the “real” problem is. Usually, this is where you hear that their boss is upset and they are afraid for their job or some underlying concern. This is a problem that might be handled with something as simple as a letter of apology, from you, the salesman or the president of your company, addressed to them with a copy to their boss, taking full responsibility and apologizing for the problem. Then, you will have a customer you might be able to keep.

3. Accentuate the Positive.

It is important to find some commonalities, or create them, between you and the person on the other end. It is helpful and empathetic to say, “Oh boy, I know what you are going through. I’ve had a similar situation just recently. Let me see what I can do about this.” This serves to normalize the situation. It tells someone that he/she is not the only one who has gone through this and that his or her reaction to it is normal. That calms people right away.

4. State Your Case Tactfully.

The key here is to help people understand your perspective on things without making them defensive. To the extent you can disarm them, they will be more able to hear what you are really saying. A couple of tips are to own what is yours – apologize for what you or your team did wrong and do it first. This enables them to hear what you have to say next. Also, try not to state issues of difference as fact. Leave a little benefit of the doubt. Rather than insisting something arrived on schedule, it is better to acknowledge any room for doubt by acknowledging, “My information shows them arriving on schedule. I’ll have to take a closer look into this.” While you may still be right, clearly you have to gather more information to convince them of that, and if you are not right, then you do not have to apologize for misstating things. It also is helpful to state your position along with your interests. What that means is that instead of maintaining that there is nothing wrong with your product, which is purely argumentative and does not offer any support for your position, it is better to offer something helpful, such as providing another perspective by sending someone over to inspect the product in person. That way, the customer can show and describe exactly why the product is not working as necessary. Your position is the bottom line of what you are willing to do. Your interests are the reasons behind that decision. For example, it might be your position that you cannot take any product back or rescind the contract. However, your reason for that – your interest – may be that your bonus is tied directly to your returns, and that you have every incentive in the world to solve this problem another way. You may also offer what some of those things are, so that you are not just taking away something from them or denying their request, but offering positive alternatives in its place.

One way to do this is to use “I Messages.” An “I” message sounds like, “When you didn’t come home last night, your father and I got really worried. What we would like you to do next time is call if you’re going to be late, so that we know you’re OK because we love you and care about you.” That is how most of our parents were when we were teenagers, right? Seriously, can you imagine how we would have reacted if they had put it this way instead of the scenario we remember of being grounded for life while stomping off to bed? “I” messages are important because they describe the experience through the speaker’s eyes, rather than simply the position (in this case the punishment). That disarms the person you are speaking to, and it takes the fight out of their next statement back to you.

5. Attack the Problem, Not the Person.

Your points will be heard more clearly if you can depersonalize your comments and point only at the issue. Rather than accusing people of “always messing things up,” it is better to say, “We’ll have to take a closer look at why this keeps happening.” In most statements that we make in a dispute, we are fighting with our own anger and are tempted to put a zinger into the point we are trying to get across. You will be heard better and improve your chances of resolving the issue the way you want if you can catch yourself and take the zinger out. Obviously, this is easier with e-mail and requires great concentration when in a face-to-face disagreement.

6. Avoid the Blame Game.

Assigning blame is only helpful in one instance in problem solving – if you assign it to yourself. Generally speaking, figuring out whose fault something is does not do any good if the goal is to fix a problem. It is a diversion and sometimes a costly one because if a person feels blamed, he/she often checks out of a conversation. The trick to resolving clashes is to focus on problem solving, rather than pointing fingers. Focus on what you and the others can do to solve a problem and make it better, and it will be behind you before you know it.

7. Focus on the Future, Not the Past.

In the past tense, we have the purchase order, the contract, the agreement and the deal as it was understood by all involved. The present and future tenses are where the solution ends. Rather than focusing on what went wrong or who should have done what, the secret to dispute resolution is to treat it like problem solving and focus on what can be done to resolve the problem. Once that is done, companies can look to the past tense to analyze what went wrong and how to improve quality control and efficiency. However, when there is a problem that has an angry customer or a disgruntled employee, the solution is all that anyone is interested in.

8. Ask the Right Kind of Questions.

Questions such as “Why is that?” or “What did you think it would be?” make a person who you are talking to defensive. They inherently question the person’s judgment or opinion, as well as coming off as curt. More often that not, people ask these short, direct questions, the type that can sound like a police officer’s interrogation or a lawyer’s cross-examination. These questions are designed to get just what you want from someone, rather than to permit them to tell you what they want you to know about something.If you want someone to answer you with real information, rather than just arguing back, it is best to give them a little information first. For example, “Since I don’t have a copy of the P.O. in front of me, it would help me to investigate this if you could tell me more about how the colors on your order are described.” Telling them why you are asking, puts your intent first, so they don’t have to guess it. This questioning style tells a person that you are trying to do your job and to figure out some facts to get to reach a solution. By delivering your request in a poised and attentive tone, , it makes the person you are asking less defensive and gets you more of what you want. The other type of question that is especially helpful when you are trying to gather information is an open-ended question. These are the opposite of directive questions, and they invite the other person to tell you what he or she thinks is important about the situation. “Can you tell me what happened from the beginning?” or “Sounds as if this was really frustrating for you” can give you information that you might later use to problem solve.

9. Pick Your Battles.

It is also important when asking questions to remember to Pick Your Battles. Human nature makes us want to be right, even to the point of being defensive or arguing points that do not matter in the big picture. It is even fair game to ask the other person, “On a scale of one-to-10, how important is this issue to you?” If an issue is a five to you and a nine to the person you are talking to, it is best to give that point up and use the same scale when an item is really important to you. After all, business relations are, like my brother’s future father-in-law once told him about marriage, a “60-60 proposition.” Most people think it is supposed to be 50-50, but the truth is, when adjusted for each person’s perspective on how much they givevs. how much they receive, it really is a 60-60 proposition. Another marital proposition is also helpful here, do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

10. Link Offers.

Car salesmen do this all the time. They ask you what you want your monthly payment to be and then set the price of the car and the interest rate on the loan or lease so that they can match your monthly payment. Essentially, it’s a way of saying, “I can either do this or that, which would be better for you?” It really is just sales skills – giving people the choice between two positives, so that they feel as if you are trying to help.

11. Be Creative.

Brainstorm. Remember that everything is negotiable. Feel free to think outside of the box in order to expand the pie. Make it so that no idea is too far fetched. Being creative with resolutions takes longer, but can yield a true win-win solution. The best solution to a dispute is to get more business out of it. As such, one common problem-solving technique is to propose that instead of a cash refund, giving clients a deep discount on future orders in order to show what a good job you are capable of doing for them. Many of the lawsuits I settle come away with win-win solutions, where instead of just compromising, we actually collaborate to reach a solution that benefits everyone. This requires listening when asking the open-ended questions and gathering morsels of good information that you will later use to formulate proposals that meet their interests. For example, you might learn about particulars that affected an order. From here, you can propose creative solutions that replace things such as broken items, or instead of using the money to re-do the entire order, you can use less money to ship a few dozen shirts with their logo on them so that your counterpart can look like a hero in front of the boss. These kinds of fixes make clients look good and keep them loyal to you, even after an initial dispute.

12. Be Confident.

You can do this! Many people are afraid of confrontation and shy away from it. I have taught everyone, from housewives and high school grads to named senior partners in law firms and CEOs, how to do these simple steps. The process works. All you have to do is follow the steps.

Furthermore, you must do this. Now that you have these tools, it is imperative that you do something about it. You owe it to your customers and your co-workers.

13. Celebrate Agreement!

This kind of negotiation is a hard process. It requires two people to remain in an uncomfortable, potentially confrontational position for a long time to rebuild trust and be creative while trying to figure out the best, rather than the fastest, solution. Once it is accomplished, both you and the person you are talking to deserve a good pat on the back. There is nothing wrong with going to lunch or dinner to celebrate the resolution of a dispute that could have been destructive, but that ended with a win-win solution where everyone was satisfied. This is an important process for avoiding more serious disputes such as lawsuits and losing hard-earned customers. Congratulate yourself and your partner in this solution. After all, nothing is more important than your company and its survival. Nothing is better for your company’s survival than learning to make peace and resolve the inevitable disputes that will arise. Learn to cultivate peace with customers, suppliers, employees, labor and management.

Utilizing these tools takes patience and generally requires changing old behaviors. However, if people on the front lines, in human resources, customer service and client relations, use simple tools such as these, they would resolve most disputes at that level, keeping them out of the legal department and out of the mediator’s office.

Biography


Lee Jay Berman is a mediator based in Los Angeles. He founded the American Institute of Mediation in 2009, after serving as Director of Pepperdine’s flagship Mediating the Litigated Case program from 2002-2009.

Strategies For Working With Difficult People

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

ANGER

Who is the most difficult person you work with? Does it feel to you like they spend each evening plotting and planning on how to ruin the next day for you? Does it drain your energy just thinking about this person? You’re not alone. It seems that every one of us has a ‘difficult to deal with’ person in our life. They take a lot of energy just to ignore, and many of us wish they would just go away.

If you can identify with this scenario, finish the rest of this sentence: “I would be more effective working with my difficult person if…”

What is your ‘if’?

Now go back and look at what you wrote. Is your answer dependant on them doing something to change? Why do you think they would be willing to change to make your life easier? You’re right, they won’t. So how are we going to be more effective when working with this person?

There are three things that you can change.

1. The System. Perhaps this person is difficult because they are a stick to the ruleskind of person and you aren’t. It can be very frustrating to you and that this person is so stuck on the system you don’t agree with. If you could just change the system it would make your life a lot easier, don’t you think? Of course, changing the system is an extremely time intensive proposition with no guarantee of any success.

There are people, like Erin Brockovich for example, who are able to change the system but most people decide that the effort does not equal the payoff. If this is your situation, you may choose to avoid trying to change the system. I’m not saying that it won’t work — I am saying that it will take a lot of your time and efforts before you see any dividends. It may be easier to take another approach with your difficult person.

2. The Other Person. You’ve probably heard the old cliché, “If you plan on changing your spouse when you get married, it makes for a very interesting first marriage.” It’s not so easy to change the other person because there is no incentive for them to change. Why should they? What they are doing is currently working just fine, isn’t it?

Consider a co-worker that listens to his music at a very loud volume. He likes I that loud, it helps him drown out all the other noise in the office. You despise the type of music he listens to, and it is far too loud for you to concentrate. You’ve asked your co-worker to turn it down every day for the past three months and it has now escalated into an all-out war between the two of you.

You are trying to get your difficult person to see that his music is too loud and you cannot concentrate. You are trying to change his perspective on the volume. Why should he turn it down? He likes it just the way it is. Trying to change the other person is often like hitting your head against a brick wall; it just doesn’t work very well. There is no incentive for the other person to take your perspective.

3. You. Of course, you do have one hundred percent control of what you do. You could try to change your perspective on the situation. Let’s assume that your difficult person is Mary, and Mary loves to complain about the company you work for. She says things like, “they don’t appreciate us”, “I’m doing all the work around here and never get any recognition”, and “this is an old boys club and women will never get in senior management positions”.

Basic whining and moaning, all the time, day in and day out. At first, you agreed with some of the things she said, and occasionally got pulled into the negativity yourself. After a while, you realized how destructive this was to your attitude and you tried to convince Mary that she was wrong. This, of course, just intensified the situation and the negativity seemed to get worse. You’ve probably moved into the same ‘zone’ that many of us do when confronted with Mary, saying “You’re right, this is a terrible place to work,” hoping that your agreement will make her go away faster.

Did it work? Not really. What Mary wants is attention and acknowledgment. You are giving her both of those things. We need to change what we are doing to get a different result.

“If you keep on doing what you’ve always done,
you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got”

You’ve heard that before, and it is completely true. If we want to change the way Mary is acting, we need to change what we are doing, and not give her what she wants. People are difficult because they are getting something out of the deal. They may be getting attention, agreement or even success because of it (think of aggressive drivers). If we want them to do something different (remember the opening question?) then we need to DO something different.

The next time Mary says “I hate this company”, don’t argue with her or agree with her, give her what she doesn’t want (agreement, attention, etc.) and say something like “I LOVE working here!” Don’t worry about if you agree with what you are saying or not, give her something other than what she wants. She wants to complain. She wants to be negative. Don’t give her what she wants.

This will work! Sometimes a lot of work too, especially if you happen to be in a negative mood that day and agree with her. Don’t give into the temptation. Be 100% consistent in this approach. For two weeks this will be very difficult for you. I promise that if you are consistent and not give Mary what she wants, then she will change her behaviour.

The next time you are asked the question “I would be more effective working with my difficult person if…” the right answer lies within you. You can change what is happening with that person. It takes time, effort, persistence and patience.

The result is worth the effort!


Article By,

Rhonda Scharf HeadshotConsultant, Speaker, Trainer and Author who works
with organizations to save time, money and sanity.


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