Author: Debra Arseneaux-Stewart, MA, LPC.
How many times have you needed to have a difficult conversation with a co-worker or employee, and you find any excuse you can to avoid the confrontation? Even highly assertive people can struggle with difficult conversations, especially when it is with a difficult person.
Ironically, an old Proverb suggests “avoid silly arguments, especially with foolish, argumentative people.” But as we all know, sometimes conversations with difficult people are unavoidable, and absolutely necessary for leaders. Many times, these conversations end up being arguments or difficult discussions because these people are just, well, difficult. So, when a difficult conversation is necessary with a difficult person, what is an effective approach?
1. Say it
That’s right, don’t avoid the conversation. Even though a natural human tendency is to avoid confrontation with a difficult person, avoidance doesn’t make a problem go away, and over time, it usually makes the problem or issue worse.
2. Say it in a way they can hear you
In other words, you may have to change your intensity (lighten it up, or be more direct). It is helpful to know the personality of the person you are dealing with in this circumstance.
Understanding does NOT mean agreement. Hear them out and repeat back for understanding. A lot of differences are resolved just by actively listening and noticing where you agree versus where you disagree. For example, say, “So what I hear you say is… Your issue with this project is…”
4. Let it go
Once you have had the conversation, and said the difficult things you needed to say, let it go. Their response is NOT your responsibility. Attempting to control the outcome, especially when it can be thwarted by someone else’s response, will only leave you with anxiety and unnecessary stress.
The worst thing you can do in dealing with difficult people is nothing. Even though the steps outlined above are not easy, they are necessary. Some of the biggest growth opportunities in the workplace come through confronting and dealing with people we may not get along with. The more we know about our co-workers, difficult or not, the better we are able to work with them in the future.