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Communicating effectively with difficult people

Working with unreasonable people is inevitable for most individuals at some point in their careers. Whether it is an unhappy customer, difficult colleague or uncompromising community member – chances are you will encounter at least one of these situations.

Unfortunately, there is no crash course in dealing with difficult people, but by applying some basic principles of communication, you can manoeuvre through these situations with ease.

Here are three ways to improve your communication with difficult people:

Harness the power of listening
When dealing with a difficult person, it can be easy to fall into the trap of not listening to them and instead concentrating on what is bothering us. Switch your focus to understanding the other person’s viewpoint. Try to understand the underlying motivation behind the person’s behaviour, i.e., they may feel unheard or underappreciated.

Make your intentions known
Communication is a two-way street – you need to be able to listen effectively and express your interests in a clear manner. Think about your communication style. Analyse your strengths and focus on improving your weaknesses. Do you use appropriate body language to boost your verbal message? Are you quick to interrupt when someone else is talking? Are you straight to the point or use vague language? When the other person does not understand your message, you need to improve communication through feedback, i.e., verbal and non-verbal cues.

Don’t make it personal
When you are emotionally activated, it can be difficult to stay neutral. Be aware of your self-talk, especially if it is fuelling negative thoughts of the other person. Look at your situation from an outsider’s view and remain objective. If you are providing feedback, make sure it is constructive and not a personal attack. If you are struggling to take a neutral position, get some perspective from external parties that have dealt with similar situations. They may assist in helping you to see your situation in a different light.


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