How to deal with difficult people 10 expert techniques

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Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.

How to deal with difficult people 10 expert techniques

Mixmike / Getty Images

Research shows that supportive relationships are good for our mental and physical health.   However, dealing with chronically “difficult” people and maintaining ongoing negative relationships can actually be detrimental to our health. The toll of the stress can affect us emotionally and physically. Because of this, it’s a good idea whenever possible to diminish or eliminate relationships that are filled with conflict. But what do you do if the person in question is a family member, co-worker, or someone you otherwise can’t easily eliminate from your life?

The following are tips for dealing with difficult people who are in your life, for better or for worse.

Keep Conversations Neutral

Avoid discussing divisive and personal issues, like religion and politics, or other issues that tend to cause conflict. If the other person tries to engage you in a discussion that will probably become an argument, change the subject or leave the room. If you’re unsure of whether your conversation style is too assertive or not assertive enough, this quiz can help.

Accept the Reality of Who They Are

In dealing with difficult people, don’t try to change the other person; you will only get into a power struggle, cause defensiveness, invite criticism, or otherwise make things worse. It also makes you a more difficult person to deal with.

Know What’s Under Your Control

Change your response to the other person; this is all you have the power to change. For example, don’t feel you need to accept abusive behavior.

Use assertive communication to draw boundaries when the other person chooses to treat you in an unacceptable way.

Create Healthier Patterns

Remember that most relationship difficulties are due to a dynamic between two people rather than one person being unilaterally “bad.” Chances are good that you’re repeating the same patterns of interaction over and over; changing your response could get you out of this rut, and responding in a healthy way can improve your chances of a healthier pattern forming.   Here’s a list of things to avoid in dealing with conflict. Do you do any of them? Also, here are some healthy communication skills to remember.

See the Best In People

Try to look for the positive aspects of others, especially when dealing with family, and focus on them. (Developing your optimism and reframing skills can help here!) The other person will feel more appreciated, and you will likely enjoy your time together more.  

Remember Who You’re Dealing With

Seeing the best in someone is important; however, don’t pretend the other person’s negative traits don’t exist. Don’t tell your secrets to a gossip, rely on a flake, or look for affection from someone who isn’t able to give it. This is part of accepting them for who they are.

Get Support Where You Can Find It

Get your needs met from others who are able to meet your needs. Tell your secrets to a trustworthy friend who’s a good listener,   or process your feelings through journaling, for example. Rely on people who have proven themselves to be trustworthy and supportive, or find a good therapist if you need one. This will help you and the other person by taking pressure off the relationship and removing a source of conflict.  

Let Go Or Get Space If You Need It

Know when it’s time to distance yourself and do so. If the other person can’t be around you without antagonizing you, minimizing contact may be key. If they’re continually abusive, it’s best to cut ties and let them know why. Explain what needs to happen if there ever is to be a relationship, and let it go. (If the offending party is a boss or co-worker, you may consider switching jobs.)

The best hard-bargaining tactics can catch you off guard

By PON Staff — on September 28th, 2020 / BATNA

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How to deal with difficult people 10 expert techniques

Some negotiators seem to believe that hard-bargaining tactics are the key to success. They resort to threats, extreme demands, and even unethical behavior to try to get the upper hand in a negotiation.

In fact, negotiators who fall back on hard-bargaining strategies in negotiation are typically betraying a lack of understanding about the gains that can be achieved in most business negotiations. When negotiators resort to hard-bargaining tactics, they convey that they view negotiation as a win-lose enterprise. A small percentage of business negotiations that concern only one issue, such as price, can indeed be viewed as win-lose negotiations, or distributive negotiations.

Discover how to unleash your power at the bargaining table in this free special report, BATNA Basics: Boost Your Power at the Bargaining Table, from Harvard Law School.

Much more commonly, however, business negotiations involve multiple issues. As a result, these so-called integrative negotiations give parties the potential to create win-win outcomes, or mutually beneficial agreements. Business negotiators can negotiate by brainstorming creative solutions, identifying differences in preferences that can be ripe for tradeoffs, and building trust.

Unfortunately, when parties resort to hard-bargaining tactics in negotiations with integrative potential, they risk missing out on these benefits. Because negotiators tend to respond in the way they are treated, one party’s negotiation hardball tactics can create a vicious cycle of threats, demands, and other hardball strategies. This pattern can create a hard-bargaining negotiation that easily deteriorates into impasse, distrust, or a deal that’s subpar for everyone involved.

10 Common Hard-Bargaining Tactics & Negotiation Skills

To prevent your negotiation from disintegrating into hard-bargaining tactics, you first need to make a commitment not to engage in these tactics yourself. Remember that there are typically better ways of meeting your goals, such as building trust, asking lots of questions, and exploring differences.

Next, you need to prepare for your counterpart’s hard-bargaining tactics. To do so, you first will have to be able to identify them. In their book Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes, Robert Mnookin, Scott Peppet, and Andrew Tulumello offer advice to avoid being caught off-guard by hard bargainers. The better prepared we are for hard-bargaining strategies in negotiation, the better able we will be to defuse them.

Here is a list of the 10 hardball tactics in negotiation to watch out for from the authors of Beyond Winning:

  1. Extreme demands followed up by small, slow concessions. Perhaps the most common of all hard-bargaining tactics, this one protects dealmakers from making concessions too quickly. However, it can keep parties from making a deal and unnecessarily drag out business negotiations. To head off this tactic, have a clear sense of your own goals, best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA), and bottom line – and don’t be rattled by an aggressive opponent.
  2. Commitment tactics. Your opponent may say that his hands are tied or that he has only limited discretion to negotiate with you. Do what you can to find out if these commitment tactics are genuine. You may find that you need to negotiate with someone who has greater authority to do business with you.
  3. Take-it-or-leave-it negotiation strategy. Offers should rarely be nonnegotiable. To defuse this hard-bargaining tactic, try ignoring it and focus on the content of the offer instead, then make a counter-offer that meets both parties’ needs.
  4. Inviting unreciprocated offers. When you make an offer, you may find that your counterpart asks you to make a concession before making a counteroffer herself. Don’t bid against yourself by reducing your demands; instead, indicate that you are waiting for a counteroffer.
  5. Trying to make you flinch. Sometimes you may find that your opponent keeps making greater and greater demands, waiting for you to reach your breaking point and concede. Name the hard-bargaining tactic and clarify that you will only engage in a reciprocal exchange of offers.
  6. Personal insults and feather ruffling. Personal attacks can feed on your insecurities and make you vulnerable. Take a break if you feel yourself getting flustered, and let the other party know that you won’t tolerate insults and other cheap ploys.
  7. Bluffing, puffing, and lying. Exaggerating and misrepresenting facts can throw you off guard. Be skeptical about claims that seem too good to be true and investigate them closely.
  8. Threats and warnings. Want to know how to deal with threats? The first step is recognizing threats and oblique warnings as the hard-bargaining tactics they are. Ignoring a threat and naming a threat can be two effective strategies for defusing them.
  9. Belittling your alternatives. The other party might try to make you cave in by belittling your BATNA. Don’t let her shake your resolve.
  10. Good cop, bad cop. When facing off with a two-negotiator team, you may find that one person is reasonable and the other is tough. Realize that they are working together and don’t be taken in by such hard-bargaining tactics.

Are there any other hard-bargaining strategies in negotiation that you’ve encountered that you would add to this list? We would love to hear from you!

Discover how to unleash your power at the bargaining table in this free special report, BATNA Basics: Boost Your Power at the Bargaining Table, from Harvard Law School.

How to resolve complaints quickly, gain greater customer satisfaction and end every encounter on a positive note!

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Sometimes, even the most helpful and caring people don’t have the skills, experience or attitude to handle a really tough customer or client. With the tips and techniques provided in this powerful program, you can learn what it takes to provide the kind of superior, memorable service that leads to satisfied, loyal customers — the kind who support your business, purchase your products and services and recommend your organization to others.

Overview

Dealing with customers and handling their complaints is stressful — and risky — business!

When customers are confrontational, over demanding or unreasonable, it becomes harder than ever to deliver helpful, courteous service. But when customers are met with a take-charge attitude and a positive outlook, they immediately feel good about doing business with your organization.

Sometimes, even the most helpful and caring people don’t have the skills, experience or attitude to handle a really tough customer or client. With the tips and techniques provided in this powerful program, you can learn what it takes to provide the kind of superior, memorable service that results in satisfied, loyal customers — the kind who support your business, purchase your products and services and recommend your organization to others!

How would you — and your organization — benefit from being able to successfully do the following?

  • Make direct customer encounters more positive, productive and profitable
  • Discover innovative ways to cope with client demands and complaints
  • Utilize strategies that can help develop a rapport with all types of “prickly personalities”
  • Resolve complaints quickly — and to everyone’s satisfaction
  • Repair soured relationships with customers who otherwise would have been lost forever

Just imagine the personal and professional rewards you could earn from being able to implement this kind of exceptional customer service. Customer complaints will drop, refunds and returns will dwindle and your organization’s reputation as being genuinely “customer conscious” will spread. Additionally, you’ll be able to minimize the stress and frustration that can come from being overwhelmed by difficult customer interactions. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!

Don’t just listen to complaints, but learn from them … and prevent future problems while solving current ones! You and your entire team can benefit from this exciting and fun one-hour event. Don’t miss out — enroll today!

Communication skills that get to the heart of the matter

  • Learn a five-step approach to gaining customer confidence, taking control of the situation and moving on to constructive solutions
  • Use words and phrases that work wonders to repair broken or damaged customer relations
  • Don’t just guess — listen for the real issue with these effective techniques

Ways to stay calm, cool and in control

  • Make an encounter with any tough customer an “inner game” that’s challenging, fun and productive
  • Learn strategies that help you stay calm and in control when customers are rude or condescending
  • Find out how to get difficult interactions back on track and end each one on a positive note

How to deliver more than your customer expects

  • Revisit your customers’ expectations to ensure you’re giving them what they truly want
  • Learn how to deliver bad news to irritated customers and still win them over in the end
  • Turn your most difficult customer into your organization’s biggest advocate

What You’ll Learn

  • Create a sense of trust and goodwill with your customers that advertising dollars just can’t buy and marketing efforts just can’t produce
  • Notice increased sales, higher profits, better repeat business and more word-of-mouth praise than ever before
  • Provide the kind of memorable, superior service that results in satisfied, long-term customers
  • Rebuild customer loyalty after negative incidents
  • Turn irate customers into valued allies

Who Will Benefit

Everyone in your organization who deals with angry, disgruntled, irritated or hard-to-please customers will gain valuable skills that make each customer interaction more pleasant — and end with a more positive outcome!

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Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.

How to deal with difficult people 10 expert techniques

Mixmike / Getty Images

Research shows that supportive relationships are good for our mental and physical health.   However, dealing with chronically “difficult” people and maintaining ongoing negative relationships can actually be detrimental to our health. The toll of the stress can affect us emotionally and physically. Because of this, it’s a good idea whenever possible to diminish or eliminate relationships that are filled with conflict. But what do you do if the person in question is a family member, co-worker, or someone you otherwise can’t easily eliminate from your life?

The following are tips for dealing with difficult people who are in your life, for better or for worse.

Keep Conversations Neutral

Avoid discussing divisive and personal issues, like religion and politics, or other issues that tend to cause conflict. If the other person tries to engage you in a discussion that will probably become an argument, change the subject or leave the room. If you’re unsure of whether your conversation style is too assertive or not assertive enough, this quiz can help.

Accept the Reality of Who They Are

In dealing with difficult people, don’t try to change the other person; you will only get into a power struggle, cause defensiveness, invite criticism, or otherwise make things worse. It also makes you a more difficult person to deal with.

Know What’s Under Your Control

Change your response to the other person; this is all you have the power to change. For example, don’t feel you need to accept abusive behavior.

Use assertive communication to draw boundaries when the other person chooses to treat you in an unacceptable way.

Create Healthier Patterns

Remember that most relationship difficulties are due to a dynamic between two people rather than one person being unilaterally “bad.” Chances are good that you’re repeating the same patterns of interaction over and over; changing your response could get you out of this rut, and responding in a healthy way can improve your chances of a healthier pattern forming.   Here’s a list of things to avoid in dealing with conflict. Do you do any of them? Also, here are some healthy communication skills to remember.

See the Best In People

Try to look for the positive aspects of others, especially when dealing with family, and focus on them. (Developing your optimism and reframing skills can help here!) The other person will feel more appreciated, and you will likely enjoy your time together more.  

Remember Who You’re Dealing With

Seeing the best in someone is important; however, don’t pretend the other person’s negative traits don’t exist. Don’t tell your secrets to a gossip, rely on a flake, or look for affection from someone who isn’t able to give it. This is part of accepting them for who they are.

Get Support Where You Can Find It

Get your needs met from others who are able to meet your needs. Tell your secrets to a trustworthy friend who’s a good listener,   or process your feelings through journaling, for example. Rely on people who have proven themselves to be trustworthy and supportive, or find a good therapist if you need one. This will help you and the other person by taking pressure off the relationship and removing a source of conflict.  

Let Go Or Get Space If You Need It

Know when it’s time to distance yourself and do so. If the other person can’t be around you without antagonizing you, minimizing contact may be key. If they’re continually abusive, it’s best to cut ties and let them know why. Explain what needs to happen if there ever is to be a relationship, and let it go. (If the offending party is a boss or co-worker, you may consider switching jobs.)

How to deal with difficult people 10 expert techniquesLike the old Saturday Night Live character, Debbie Downer, some people are only happy when they’re unhappy and bringing down everyone else around them too.

Here are eight tips for dealing with difficult people at work.

1. Don’t get dragged down —The old saying is “Misery loves company.” The most important thing is to be aware of who the Debbie and David Downers are in your company and to make sure they don’t suck you into their world of negativity. Keep your guard up!

2. Listen —It’s tempting to just tune these people out, but this rarely stops them. If anything, they’ll talk and argue more forcefully because they’ll think nobody cares about them. The best thing to do is to use good, normal active listening techniques, as you would for anyone else.

3. Use a time limit for venting —Remember that there is a difference between being a perpetual pessimist and having an occasional need to vent. Everybody has tough times, and sharing our feelings can make us feel better. Use the “5-minute rule” when it comes to this. Let your colleague vent for five minutes, but after that, assume that he’s entered Downer mode, and proceed with the next steps.

4. Don’t agree —It’s tempting to try to appease Debbie Downer to make him or her stop and go away. As the person complains about benefits or the boss or whatever, you might be inclined to give a little nod of your head or a quiet “yeah” or shrug a “what can we do?” Even though these responses seem harmless, they just throw fuel on the flames.

5. Don’t stay silent —If you are clearly listening but say nothing, Debbie Downer will interpret your silence as agreement. Worse, if others are present, they too will assume that you agree. Whether the complaint is about the boss or the benefits or the client, silence means you agree with the complainer.

6. Do switch extremes into facts —Negative people often speak in extreme terms that match their worldviews. They talk about “never” and “always.” Your first goal is to switch them to fact-based statements.

Negative Ned: Andy is such a slacker! He’s never on time for our morning meetings. How are we supposed to hit our deadlines when he’s never here?

You: Ned, you’re clearly frustrated. I seem to remember that Andy was on time at our meetings on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. He was late on Thursday and Friday. So you mean he’s late frequently, not always; right?

7. Move to problem solving —People who whine a lot often feel powerless and believe that the situation is hopeless. Your only chance of ending their negativity is to help them to move into a problem solving mode. This doesn’t always work, but it’s the only antidote known.

8. Cut them off —If, after all your efforts, you deem these people to be hopelessly negative, you need to cut them off. Make sure they aren’t just venting for a few minutes, make sure you weren’t previously encouraging them, make sure they can’t switch to problem solving, and then politely shut them down.

You: Can we change the subject? You’re really bumming me out. If you want to vent for a couple minutes, fine. If you want me to help you solve the problem, fine. But life is too short to wallow. Let’s move on to something else, OK?

Creating a great workplace culture should be everyone’s job. Don’t let Debbie and David Downer harm your company or your own level of engagement at work.

What new research and expert advice can we use to better deal with difficult people?

The Feedback Sandwich Doesn’t Work — This Does

Nobody likes delivering bad news. Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer recommends having someone else do it whenever possible.

But what about when it’s unavoidable? Don’t do the old “feedback sandwich” of positive comment, negative comment, positive comment.

Research shows it’s better to be briefly negative and then offer an extended list of positives.

An even worse prescription than praise before criticism is the so-called “criticism sandwich”: 1) specific positive comments, 2) specific negative comments, and 3) an overarching positive remark. The idea here is that by bracketing the negative remarks with positive comments, you make the criticism palatable. Unfortunately, given retroactive interference and proactive enhancement, a very different outcome occurs: the criticism blasts the first list of positive comments out of the listeners’ memory. They then think hard about the criticism (which will make them remember it better) and are on the alert to think even harder about what happens next. What do they get? Positive remarks that are too general to be remembered.

It is also important to consider that receiving an equal number of positive and negative remarks feels negative overall because of hedonic asymmetry and the self-serving bias. It is far better to briefly present a few negative remarks and then provide a long list of positive remarks… You should also provide as much detail as possible within the positive comments, even more than feels natural, because positive feedback is less memorable.

(More on effectively giving feedback — from the guys at Pixar – here.)

How To Respond To Impossible Questions

“Which dress should I wear tonight?”

Get her to tell you the reasoning behind several choices and let her talk herself into one. Then agree.

“What did you think of my violin solo?”

If you really don’t like an artist’s work, you don’t have to lie, but find something other than a professional yardstick to measure it by. Praise the effort that made it happen, the sincerity that it shows, the artist’s progress, and the heart that went into it. Ask him to tell you what it means to you.

“Does this make me look fat?”

Never say “yes”, “not really”, “only from the back,” or the obvious answer: “I refuse to answer because I don’t want you to beat me up.” Instead, dissemble a little: “That shirt doesn’t flatter you as well as the blue one does. I like the blue one better.”

“Do you like the present that I gave you?”

Always acknowledge the thoughtfulness of a person’s gift, even if it’s something you’ll never use. “Thank you so much for thinking of me” is always a safe reply.

(More secrets to clicking with people here. )

How To Go On The Offensive — Without Being Offensive

You want to get them on your side to avoid conflict. But how?

Repeated studies show that flattery works.

The results of this study suggest the following social rule: don’t hesitate to praise, even if you’re not sure the praise is accurate. Receivers of the praise will feel great and you will seem thoughtful and intelligent for noticing their marvelous qualities — whether they exist or not.

But avoid “fixed-mindset” praise; if you tell people their success is inevitable because of innate qualities it can be devastating when things don’t work out.

Telling people that they are destined to succeed before they attempt a new activity can make any failures crushing. Thus, fixed-mindset praise, meant to make people feel better, can actually make people feel much worse about their work and more negative about the person who praised them if it turns out to be inaccurate.

People like others who they feel are “on their team” or who “do something just for them.”

When dealing with hostile or belligerent people, you can leverage this to make them feel closer to you.

Car salespeople will often say something like, “You are a very nice couple. I’m not going to let you buy this car because it’s not right to you. It’s true that we make the most money on selling this one, but I just can’t do that to you.” Savvy salespeople imply through this that they are abandoning their company team and becoming a team with the customers. They can leverage the trick of scapegoating their natural team… “My boss is going to kill me, but I’m going to challenge him to get you the car at this price. He’s obsessed with every penny, but I’m committed to making this work.”

(More on effective influence methods from persuasion guru Robert Cialdinihere.)

When You Are Forced To Argue

They won’t let it go. How can you deescalate without disengaging?

As always, the key is listening. And good listening means the other person knows you listened.

Here’s a great four step process for arguing — with minimal breaking of furniture.

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

1) You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

2) You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3) You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

4) Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

One immediate effect of following these rules is that your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment (you agree with them on some important matters and have even been persuaded by something they said).

(More on how to win every argument here.)

A Final Thought

Remember that the key is never what you said, it’s what they heard.

And if you want to make things better, ignore what they said and focus on what they meant.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

How to deal with difficult people 10 expert techniques

The customer may always right, but that doesn’t mean all customers are easy to deal with. Anyone who’s ever worked in customer service can tell you, customers can be downright unruly. Still, if you want to stay in business, you’ve got to deal with them. Finding techniques that help you disarm unhappy customers and win them to your site is the key to providing great customer service – even when you really want to kick nasty customers to the curb.

Mike Effle, CEO of Vendio, a multichannel ecommerce solution, knows a thing or two about how to deal with difficult customers. He offers 10 tips on how to turn a bad customer service situation into an opportunity to improve your business.

First and foremost – listen. Do not try to talk over the customer or argue with them. Let the customer have their say, even if you know what they are going to say next, and even if they may not have all the information or be mistaken. As you listen, take the opportunity to build rapport with the customer.

Build rapport through empathy. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Echo back the source of their frustration and show that you understand their position and situation. If you can identify with a customer’s issue, it will help calm them down. If you verbally “nod” during the call, the customer will feel better understood.

Lower your voice. If the customer gets louder, start speaking more slowly and in a lower tone. Your calm demeanor will reflect on them and will help them to settle down. As you approach the situation with a calm, clear mind, unaffected by the customer’s tone or volume, anger will generally dissipate.

Assume all your customers are watching. Pretend you are not talking only to the customer but to an audience that is watching the interaction. This shift in perspective can provide an emotional buffer if the customer is being verbally abusive and will allow you to think more clearly when responding. Since an unruly customer can be a negative referral, assuming they’ll repeat the conversation to other potential customers can help ensure you’ve done your best to address their concerns in a calming way.

Know when to give in. If not satisfying the customer is going to take two hours and a bottle of aspirin and risk negative referrals, it is probably better to draw a compromise a bit more in their favor to give you more time to nurture your more productive customer relationships. Keep in mind that the interaction is not typical of most customers, and that you’re dealing with an exception.

Never get angry or upset. If the customer is swearing or being verbally abusive, take a deep breath and continue as if you didn’t hear them. Responding in kind will not solve anything, and it will usually escalate the situation in a negative direction. Instead, remind the customer that you are there to help them and their best immediate chance of resolving the situation – often this simple statement will help defuse the situation.

Never take it personally. Always speak to the issue at hand and do not get personal, even if the customer does. Remember that the customer doesn’t know you and they’re just venting frustration at you as a representative of your company. Gently guide the conversation back to the issue and how you intend to resolve it, and try to ignore personal comments.

Remember that you’re interacting with a human. Everyone has bad days. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse, got a traffic ticket that morning or have had a run of bad luck. We’ve all been there, to some degree. Try to help make their day better by being a pleasant, calming voice – it’ll make you feel good too.

If you promise a callback – call back! Even if you promised an update that you don’t have yet, call the customer at the scheduled time anyway. The customer will be reassured to know that you were not trying to dodge them and will appreciate the follow-up.

Summarize the next steps. At the end of the call, let the customer know exactly what to expect and then be sure to follow through on your promises. Document the call to ensure you’re well prepared for the next interaction.

How to deal with difficult people 10 expert techniques

It is inevitable in your role as a manager that you will have to deal with employees who earn the label “difficult.” While some managers choose to do nothing, it is worth your while to take action to remedy the problem. After all, maintaining an effective working environment is conducive to employee performance.

Effective managers use a deliberate approach when delivering a constructive feedback discussion for dealing with difficult employees. Here are some tips on how to best deal with a difficult employee.

Watch Now: 9 Tips for Handling a Problem Employee

Verify and Evaluate

Workplace gossip should not be relied upon for information about an employee. If you haven’t established a trusting working relationship with this person yet, initiate a conversation with them to allow them to begin feeling comfortable talking to you.

This is important part of the verification process. Jumping right into a conversation about personal problems or work difficulties with someone you don’t have a solid relationship with may not be very effective for identifying issues.

It may take you more than a few conversations with them to develop the right circumstances for talking about the situation. Once you have gained their trust, you can bring up the issues. Take time to evaluate and reflect on any issues you find, unless they require immediate actions, to allow you to design appropriate measures.

A Helpful Mindset

Approach an employee who appears to be struggling with an open, helpful mindset. Your goal is to give the employee a chance to speak about what is keeping them from performing at the desired level. Express that you’re there to help and guide them.

Provide Clear Examples

After your due diligence, when you are clear in your assessment and presentation of the problems, you can address the issues you found.

Ensure you point out the effect that problems can have on team performance. Approach these subjects in a sincere manner. You may want to have some facts and figures with you so that you could demonstrate the impact low performance has.

Appropriate Language

Sometimes the best route to a solution is not always the direct one. Talk to your employee with the tone of a mentor. “I noticed you appear to be tired and distracted a lot lately. Is everything OK?”

This can open a dialogue with the person you are reaching out to. This does depend on the relationship you have with your employees, so work to establish trust with them before any problems arise.

Listen to the Employee

As you talk with the difficult employee, actively listen to what they say. Stay calm and positive. Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered in one or two words. Try not to interrupt.

Stay engaged in the conversation. This will demonstrate an interest in the person you are talking to and may help you identify any issues. If you can determine the source of difficulty, you have a much better chance of finding a solution.

They may also be experiencing personal problems that are affecting their professional lives. Many people will not be comfortable discussing personal matters with their managers, but if you can establish rapport early on in a working relationship you may become someone employees trust.

If there is a personal issue, you could point the employee in the direction of some professional assistance, such as a therapist, or to an employee assistance program if you have one.

Establish Support

Let your struggling employee know that you are here to offer assistance and help them through whatever might be holding them back.

Develop the Solution Together

The desired result of an engagement with a difficult employee is an agreed-upon solution. Discuss some goals with the employee, and be sure to look for their input. If you can, let your team member establish goals for themselves. This gives them a stake in their own improvement process, and lets you know they are interested in improving.

Provide Training

Some employees require more training than others. As you are assessing the difficulties, listen for keywords and phrases that may indicate the need for training. If you identify some skills that need developing, create a plan to get them the training they need.

Check-In Regularly

Checking in with employees that are struggling has many benefits. It not only demonstrates to them your commitment, but it gives you additional time with the employee to further assist them.

What new research and expert advice can we use to better deal with difficult people?

The Feedback Sandwich Doesn’t Work — This Does

Nobody likes delivering bad news. Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer recommends having someone else do it whenever possible.

But what about when it’s unavoidable? Don’t do the old “feedback sandwich” of positive comment, negative comment, positive comment.

Research shows it’s better to be briefly negative and then offer an extended list of positives.

An even worse prescription than praise before criticism is the so-called “criticism sandwich”: 1) specific positive comments, 2) specific negative comments, and 3) an overarching positive remark. The idea here is that by bracketing the negative remarks with positive comments, you make the criticism palatable. Unfortunately, given retroactive interference and proactive enhancement, a very different outcome occurs: the criticism blasts the first list of positive comments out of the listeners’ memory. They then think hard about the criticism (which will make them remember it better) and are on the alert to think even harder about what happens next. What do they get? Positive remarks that are too general to be remembered.

It is also important to consider that receiving an equal number of positive and negative remarks feels negative overall because of hedonic asymmetry and the self-serving bias. It is far better to briefly present a few negative remarks and then provide a long list of positive remarks… You should also provide as much detail as possible within the positive comments, even more than feels natural, because positive feedback is less memorable.

(More on effectively giving feedback — from the guys at Pixar — here.)

How To Respond To Impossible Questions

“Which dress should I wear tonight?”

Get her to tell you the reasoning behind several choices and let her talk herself into one. Then agree.

“What did you think of my violin solo?”

If you really don’t like an artist’s work, you don’t have to lie, but find something other than a professional yardstick to measure it by. Praise the effort that made it happen, the sincerity that it shows, the artist’s progress, and the heart that went into it. Ask him to tell you what it means to you.

“Does this make me look fat?”

Never say “yes”, “not really”, “only from the back,” or the obvious answer: “I refuse to answer because I don’t want you to beat me up.” Instead, dissemble a little: “That shirt doesn’t flatter you as well as the blue one does. I like the blue one better.”

“Do you like the present that I gave you?”

Always acknowledge the thoughtfulness of a person’s gift, even if it’s something you’ll never use. “Thank you so much for thinking of me” is always a safe reply.

(More secrets to clicking with people here. )

How To Go On The Offensive — Without Being Offensive

You want to get them on your side to avoid conflict. But how?

Repeated studies show that flattery works.

The results of this study suggest the following social rule: don’t hesitate to praise, even if you’re not sure the praise is accurate. Receivers of the praise will feel great and you will seem thoughtful and intelligent for noticing their marvelous qualities — whether they exist or not.

But avoid “fixed-mindset” praise; if you tell people their success is inevitable because of innate qualities it can be devastating when things don’t work out.

Telling people that they are destined to succeed before they attempt a new activity can make any failures crushing. Thus, fixed-mindset praise, meant to make people feel better, can actually make people feel much worse about their work and more negative about the person who praised them if it turns out to be inaccurate.

People like others who they feel are “on their team” or who “do something just for them.”

When dealing with hostile or belligerent people, you can leverage this to make them feel closer to you.

Car salespeople will often say something like, “You are a very nice couple. I’m not going to let you buy this car because it’s not right to you. It’s true that we make the most money on selling this one, but I just can’t do that to you.” Savvy salespeople imply through this that they are abandoning their company team and becoming a team with the customers. They can leverage the trick of scapegoating their natural team… “My boss is going to kill me, but I’m going to challenge him to get you the car at this price. He’s obsessed with every penny, but I’m committed to making this work.”

(More on effective influence methods from persuasion guru Robert Cialdini here.)

When You Are Forced To Argue

They won’t let it go. How can you deescalate without disengaging?

As always, the key is listening. And good listening means the other person knows you listened.

Here’s a great four step process for arguing — with minimal breaking of furniture.

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

1) You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

2) You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3) You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

4) Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

One immediate effect of following these rules is that your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment (you agree with them on some important matters and have even been persuaded by something they said).

(More on how to win every argument here.)

A Final Thought

Remember that the key is never what you said, it’s what they heard.

And if you want to make things better, ignore what they said and focus on what they meant.

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