When rationality doesn’t cut it.
Science says we judge people within seconds of meeting them, which is why a good first impression is so important. If you’ve ever had the joy of working in retail *insert very sarcastic tone here*, chances are, you knew exactly if a customer would be a pleasure to deal with, or an absolute pain in the ass.
The one that comes in with a frown on their forehead and a snappy “hi” while making a mess of the pile of jeans you just arranged into a perfect pyramid for half an hour will be the person who requests to speak to the manager when you kindly explain you don’t stock bellbottoms anymore.
They’re hard to please, even if you’re trying your best to find a solution, they get angry at you for no good reason, and they like to feel superior.
In situations like this, we feel the urge to make them understand how ridiculous they’re being by mirroring their bad attitude back at them, or repeatedly explaining something to them in increasingly patronizing tones – but this usually results in nothing more than heightened frustration levels for both parties.
So, what’s the solution then? Next time you encounter a difficult person, try to do the following four things…
1. Slow down
The most important thing to do when someone is yelling at you or saying things you feel offended by, is to think before you say anything back. We often feel the need to defend ourselves and show the other person they’re wrong, but the less you react to what is said, the better. By keeping your composure, you show the other person it’s unnecessary to get so worked up, and also avoid saying something you
might almost certainly will regret later.
Listen, then mentally count to 10, and carefully ask yourself if anything you have the urge to say would actually help improve the situation. Arguing with someone who is upset – even when they’re wrong – is usually pointless, as people are much more driven by emotions than rationality.
Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry, says when you find yourself with someone who is “engaged in derailed thinking, sometimes it’s best to just smile and nod.” Moreover, “if you’re going to have to straighten them out, it’s better to give yourself some time to plan the best way to go about it.”
2. Don’t take it personally
This is easier said than done, especially when someone keeps on saying you’ve done something wrong, but we have to remember it’s often not us who upset the person, but something else that might have happened. It might even have been completely unrelated to the current situation, but when someone has had a bad day, they’re much more likely to get upset about small things.
If you actually did something wrong, say you’re sorry. If you know the person’s accusations aren’t valid, just let it go. Chances are, whatever it was that has the other person jumping up and down yelling at you actually had nothing to do with you, but you just happened to be there at this point in time.
3. Keep your distance
Body language is extremely important in any situation, but especially when trying to de-escalate an argument. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, communication is about 70 per cent body language, so what you do with your hands or what facial expression you use while listening can have a major impact on a conversation.
When dealing with a difficult person, your instinct might be to make a lot of hand gestures, shrug your shoulders, or look at them with your eyes and mouth wide open, so as to signal you are shocked by their poor attitude. But none of this will help the other person calm down; in all likelihood, it will only make matters worse.
You might also be tempted to touch their shoulder or lean in closer when explaining yourself, but many people would interpret this as an aggressive move, so avoid getting too close. Instead, keep your distance and try to keep your body and face in a neutral position. Eye contact is good to signal you’re giving them your attention, but try to refrain from overly expressive gestures.
4. Don’t expect them to change their mind
Just like you wouldn’t expect someone with a broken leg to train for a marathon with you, you can’t expect a difficult person to simply stop being upset and irrational. In this situation, they are simply incapable of it. So instead of using your time and energy to attempt to change their mind about the issue, just accept that they see things differently, and focus on a solution.
It might not be what you want, but if there’s something you can do to satisfy the other person’s needs, you might want to consider doing it for the sake of saving yourself the trouble of convincing them of what’s right and wrong.
Of course this highly depends on the issue at stake and isn’t always possible, but if it’s about something trivial, like rescheduling an appointment, doing what the other person asks for may just be smarter than putting your foot down – even if you are technically in the right.
According to vedic educator, Adam Brady “you don’t have to agree with their perspective, or even like it. The point of this process is to compassionately suspend your need to defend a particular point of view.”.
Images via unseenaddiction.com and giphy.com.
Comment: What’s been your worst experience dealing with a difficult person?