Sunday, March 9, 2008

4 Ways to Communicate Better with Difficult People

It's not that communicating with difficult people drains energy, but we can allow even thinking that we will have to deal with a certain dreaded person to make us lose steam. Dealing with the dread of interacting with people we believe to be difficult is a proactive way we can retain our energy to invest in more interesting projects. Fear is the underlying issue; address it.

1) We are all difficult people at one time or another. The first step in dealing with, or communicating with difficult people is to realize that there is at least one person, and maybe more than one, who considers you a difficult person. Yes, little, lovable, wouldn't-hurt-a-fly you. As my sister put it, everybody is picky about something. It may be that your boyfriend's sister eats only vegan, it's impossible to cook for her. But people who smell like cigarettes drive you nuts....smokers (and yes, they are people, too) may consider you difficult to deal with.

2) Be a good finder. Keeping in mind that someone may actually consider you as a difficult person can free you to see the situation from a broader perspective. Remember how terribly awful you thought your brother, or sister to be in certain situations when you were young. It's kind of the same situation, all over again. Look for the good in that difficult person. Every single person has positive qualities; some people are better at hiding those good aspects below a gruff surface. Make it your mission to unearth the good side.

3) Everyone knows something you need to know. This step should motivate you to work harder at #2. Everyone has the capability of helping you in some way or another; that help may not be evident to either one. Think of a time when in talking to someone, a fresh idea or perspective emerged from the conversation. Or how you found out the name of someone you needed to contact. That's how detectives solve their mysteries. No one ever told Sherlock Holmes the right clue intentionally -- he deducted the value in information that was available, or he asked the right questions. Even the fact that you consider a specific person difficult can help you discern your own personality quirks. Why do you consider this person difficult in the first place?

4) Take responsibility for your own role in the conflictive situation. You didn't do it on purpose. If you had known better, you would have handled the person in a more careful manner. Most likely this other person is not being difficult to you on purpose (although it is possible that s/he is). Mayben you were not clear yourself at some point in the conflict. The point is not to beat up yourself for not being perfect, the point is to realize that everyone has his own drama on stage. The mere owning up to a minor role of responsibility will change the tenor of the relationship context, and communication with this person will improve.

From time to time, everyone plays the role of the witch, the dysfunctional, the hysterical, the overly sensitive, the angry person. Look for the good in your "adversary" and actively investigate this person for information that can help you. Assume more responsibility for turning this relationship around, and communication can only get better!