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Take Ten: Take-and-Save: 10 Ways to Deal with Difficult People

Peterson, James A. Ph.D., FACSM

doi: 10.1249/01.FIT.0000257717.30234.ed

Ten ways to deal with difficult people

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

1 Be attentive to communication patterns. Factors such as words, tone, and body language can reveal the basic intentions of difficult people and provide an indication of how you should deal with them. To a point, what you see is what you get. Knowing that can help you be better prepared to handle the often-difficult challenges inherent in dealing with contrary people.

2 Establish common ground. Recognize the fact that legitimate differences often exist between people. Contrary to the strident expectations of our polarized society, individuals are seldom all right or all wrong in their attitudes and opinions. Know when to be flexible and when to compromise.

3 Reduce the differences between yourself and the other person. Differences are often the flash point for conflict. A key step in reducing such differences is to make other people feel like you've listened to them and understand them (even if you disagree with them).

4 Listen until you really hear. The first characteristic of a good communicator is to be a good listener. More often than not, listening is the fundamental precursor of unlocking the doors (barriers) to the other person's mind. If you're not hearing what the other person is actually trying to say to you, it will be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to understand that individual's point of view.

5 Speak to be understood. Use a tone of voice that is compatible with your intended message and spoken words. Choose your words wisely. Avoid coming across as a one-directional communicator; not only is it annoying, it's usually ineffective.

6 Don't be a know-it-all. Truth be known, most people don't like (or trust) individuals who claim or act like they know it all. As such, establish a record of speaking truthfully, avoid doublespeak, and (when appropriate) admit what you don't know.

7 Recognize that some conflict is inevitable. Conflict is an inescapable fact of life-particularly when interacting with difficult people. The key when the inevitable conflict surfaces is to resolve it before it gets out of hand. You should know how to identify conflict and deal with it appropriately before it drains your energy, as well as your effectiveness.

8 Keep in mind that words can be hurtful. A poor choice of words can irreparably harm or scar a relationship with another person. Human nature aside, don't give into the temptation to gossip, be insensitive, be boastful, be insulting, or be offensive.

9 Expect the best. People tend to rise or fall to the level of your expectations and projections. Set the bar for your relationship with another person at a high level. Give difficult people the benefit of the doubt. Try to get them to see you as an ally, rather than an adversary.

10 Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day, and efforts to bring out the best in difficult people don't always bear fruit in a timely manner. Always keep in mind that time and patience can serve as effective counterbalances to an apparent lack of reason on the part of someone you perceive as being difficult.

© 2007 American College of Sports Medicine