Monday, November 7, 2011

How to Deal with Difficult People

Do you regularly deal with difficult people in your nonprofit workplace - whether it be coworkers, supervisors, board members, volunteers, and/or clients? Here are some simple techniques to save your sanity as well as facilitate a more positive and productive work environment:
  • Breathe: This may sound simplistic but taking a deep breath before you speak helps you avoid the most common urge to get angry and defensive. This response may feel good at first yet it is rarely productive.
  • Resist: State your point of view clearly and calmly, but try to resist the very human urge to win the argument. Winning will not facilitate workplace cooperation.
  • Modulate: Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language. These often express more than actual words. Be sure your voice sounds neutral, pleasant, agreeable, and that your body language conveys a willingness to listen and understand.
  • Listen: Pay attention actively and carefully to what the other person has to say. Give them time to speak their mind without interruption. Be willing to understand the difficult person's frustration without blame of defensiveness.
  • Acknowledge: Offer your best assessment as to what he/she is feeling and ask for feedback. Here are some useful phrases to use: "It sounds like you feel; if I heard you correctly; so what you're really trying to say is; is there anything else?" Look for any kernel of truth in what they say. And focus on the positive intent; this can be as basic as a shared dedication to the organization and its mission.
  • Apologize: A simple apology, whether it is for an actual mistake or for the manner in which you have communicated, is a very powerful and healing act.
  • Appreciate: These days, with all the stress and economic challenges we are facing, folks often simply feel overworked and unappreciated. Remember to take a moment to appreciate the good work of your co-workers and clients, to thank your volunteers and board members. Simple gestures can make a big difference.
Above all, keep your eyes on the goal. The goal is not to be right; the goal is to further the work of your organization. Focus on the problem, not the person. Assume the best and give your difficult person the benefit of the doubt. Know that you cannot change another person's personality or behavior. You can change your own reactions. And in doing so, you may actually be able to change the dynamics of your working relationships.

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