Navigating Interactions with Difficult People

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Have you dealt with a difficult person? Can we learn to accept a difficult person for who they are while not tolerating or even accepting their difficult behavior? In order to gain perspective on the true nature of “difficult” people, let us first understand what the term actually means (as it may be interpreted differently at different times.) The word difficult is an adjective meaning something that requires effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand; but in this case, a difficult person is simply not easy to please, get along with or satisfy. With this, we can begin to develop strategies to cope in an environment where dealing with difficult people is a common occurrence. Quite frankly, the skill set is rooted in the premise of resisting the urge to respond negatively to someone who is being difficult with you. Understanding the basis of the difficult behavior allows us to get some distance from the behavior itself. Many of us encounter unreasonable and difficult people in our lives at work or perhaps even at home. It is very easy to let a difficult person affect us, so what are some of the keys to empowering yourself in such situations?

For those of us who are frontline workers, either in regulatory enforcement, public safety or other positions that require public interaction, we have historically been told that using verbal de-escalation tips including listening and staying calm is the key to effective communication. Theoretically, I agree but when a difficult interaction is heightened or becomes emotionally charged, it is very easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and want to respond accordingly.

A recommended step after assessing any physical threat, is to possibly determine what the person is really trying to gain or avoid by acting this way? The answer to this question usually lays the foundation to then decide if their behavior is vulnerability or fear. In my experience, you don’t necessarily need to know what the other person is going through, but you should approach the situation with some level of professionalism and respect because any other response will not help productively resolve the situation.

Lastly, let the person know your intentions. In order to allay any concern with them about why you are interacting with them, let them know where you are coming from. Often times, they think you have somehow singled them out and they are simply being resistant. Your response is equally as important, so showing empathy, sticking to the facts and keeping it real with them can help keep interactions with people you find difficult in check.

About the author:  Marcus Kellum, MMPA CCEA

Marcus Kellum has worked with local governments, private businesses, and professional organizations across the country to train their regulatory, compliance and enforcement officers and inspectors. He spent nearly three decades in public service working with various cities and counties. He held positions as code division manager, chief of enforcement, quality and sustainability specialist and department director. Marcus is a Certified Code Enforcement Administrator and ICC Certified Preferred Provider with a master’s degree in management and public administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice administration.  

Published by Marcus Kellum

Emerging Leader and Consummate Professional.

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