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Dealing With Difficult People and Situations

Posted: 1st December 2015

Five Steps to Dealing With Difficult Situations

What for you makes a situation difficult?  When is a situation something you just get on and deal with, and when do you stop, consider from multiple angles, and then procrastinate because it is difficult?  Chances are any situation you diagnosed as difficult is one that involves you having to communicate with people, usually your staff or your customers.  And the reason it is difficult is that you are unsure about how the conversation will go, how the other person may react, in essence whether it will make you feel uncomfortable and uncertain.

And this is the key to dealing with difficult situations: you have got to feel ok about feeling uncomfortable and uncertain.  Easy to say of course, but if you follow these five steps, you will find it easier to do as well:

  1. Deal with them quickly

Speed is essential when dealing with difficult situations.  The longer you leave something that needs to be dealt with, the bigger the issue starts to become (both in your mind and in reality).  There’s a saying I use on my training course: “kill the giant when it is young”, in other words don’t wait for it to become a huge giant, deal with it when it is small, don’t just hope it is going to go away – it isn’t, it’s just going to get bigger and bigger.

  1. Deal with them consistently

If you have difficult situations that involve your staff or customers, you have to be consistent in how you deal with them.  Consistency doesn’t mean doing things exactly the same, each situation should be reviewed and dealt with appropriately.  Consistency does mean you actually do deal with all situations: you don’t ignore some because they involve certain people, or you are frightened of how the situation will unfold.  Being consistent means staff and customers know what to expect and can rely on you to be fair to all, rather than appearing to deal with some people and ignore others.

  1. Deal with them confidentially

A difficult situation is likely to lead to raised emotions, and if other people are close by, or there is a fear from either party that other people will be listening in, the situation will not be dealt with effectively.  Find somewhere quiet to speak to the other party and have a conversation that both parties know is confidential.

  1. Deal with them in person

Your first choice should be do deal with the situation face-to-face, and if this isn’t feasible, by telephone.  Although it may feel easier to deal with the situation by email or letter be very wary of this; written communication is very easy to misinterpret, turning a difficult situation into a very difficult situation.  After you have had the conversation in person you can always follow-up with a short summary by email.

  1. Deal with them candidly

Be upfront and clear in your communication what has happened and what you want done differently, or what corrective actions need to be taken.  Don’t try and hide any of the unpleasant facts, or omit anything unpleasant, cover what you need to cover honestly and openly.

You should always try to prevent them from occurring in the first place, but if you do find yourself in a difficult situation, remember, there are no magic wands that make difficult situations just disappear; ignoring them and hoping they go away is not going to help.  Follow the five steps above, and you’ll deal with them more efficiently and effectively than before.

The five steps are included in a variety of training courses Bryan delivers at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce. The next ‘Difficult Situations: How to Deal With difficult customers and staff effectively and confidently’ is on 9th of February 2016.  For all training courses visit our website.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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