Is it just me or has there been a recent surge in people being particularly difficult lately? And it's not just around those wild and whacky full-moon days!
It seems that every other person I've talked to lately has also had a recent encounter of some kind with someone saying and doing things -- in their work and personal lives -- that creates some big and unpleasant fireworks. It's a bona fide pandemic.
That said, sometimes it's we who are the difficult people. We've all had our moments, haven't we? I'm just saying...
When it comes to communication between humans (to ensure that there's no confusion around the species in question), there are two key things that we're all apt to forget from time to time, myself included:
a) Each of us is 100% responsible for what comes out of our own mouths.
b) Communication happens at the receiver's end, not at the sender's.
That is, you have no real way of knowing how what and how you say something is going to land on the other person.
It could land positively if you've done your best to be responsible for your delivery. Or it could land like a Molotov cocktail and completely blow up regardless of your efforts, simply because of the negativity and emotional garbage that is being triggered for the other person, independent of you.
It's their "stuff" that's being triggered. And there's little you can do about it.
Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that when they get triggered and react, we respond in kind. And it gets ugly. Welcome to the human race.
In an ideal world, we all strive to staying rational when confronting, or confronted by, a difficult person, especially in the workplace.
Here are five strategies that come in handy especially if your boss "goes medieval" on you.
1. Don't take it personally.
This can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do, and it often is, particularly when it's the very individual who has power over your paycheque that is being difficult and right there in your face.
Three things: Stop. Re-focus. Ground yourself.
Respond from that place, and remember it's not about you. It's really about them, and in that moment they just don't have the self-awareness, presence of mind or coping mechanisms to deal with their own reactions and "stuff" in a positive way.
If you're in a position that you have to respond to an irrational attack (in this case, by your boss who's freaking out), ask him/her what exactly he/she is upset about.
And take a deep breath before doing so to dig into your well of compassion, so that your question doesn't come across as antagonistic or sarcastic. Remember, you want to show that you are interested in communicating rather than in arguing.
3. Agree. Sort of.
Hopefully your boss has communicated what's going at his/her end and has calmed down slightly by now, so go ahead and agree with a kernel of truth in their complaint.
Plus, you'll overcome your own knee-jerk/taking-it-personally impulse to reactively look at that one small fact about which the other person is critical.
For instance, if your boss calls you a screw-up, ask, "In what way did I screw up?" If he/she says, "You're just a screw up," agree with one discreet example (providing it's true!), but correct his/her overgeneralization and sensationalizing.
4. Stand up for yourself effectively.
It's easier to have a rational conversation and defend yourself, as warranted, once the emotional fireworks have abated.
Staying with the angry, blaming boss example, you can defend without being defensive: "Yes, you're right. I made a mistake. It wasn't intentional and I appreciate your constructive feedback to minimize mistakes and errors in the future."
Here's the thing. You can stand up for yourself by standing in your personal power and without adding fuel to the raging fire. You can take ownership for your part by re-iterating the specific error, but refuse to be incorrectly labeled a "screw-up", or anything else for that matter.
5. Resist the urge to fight to win the argument.
We all want to be right. And we each get to choose the appropriate battles for us. One of the best and smartest things you can say in this situation is: "It sounds like you're angry right now, and I'm sorry about that." This demonstrates compassion and a willingness to understand the difficult person's/your angry boss' frustration without blame or defensiveness.
The key takeaway when dealing with a difficult person is that listening with all the calm and compassion you can muster in the moment, and asking questions leads the other person to their own better conclusions....and a better overall outcome for you as well as the situation at large.