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Coping with Difficult People

Strategies for Coping with Difficult People

How often, after losing an exchange with a difficult person, have you slapped yourself on the forehead and thought, “Why didn’t I handle that better?” 

Brain freeze, a slang expression for the inability to cope spontaneously, is a common problem when dealing with difficult people who seem to have a knack for triggering automatic defensive behaviors. The best way to handle brain freeze is to plan ahead for coping with these difficult people.

Your plan should take into consideration the type of person you’ll be dealing with, the typical behaviors the person will exhibit, and the actual coping steps to be used. 

Also, you should get input from others who aren’t part of the problem, because they might have insights you haven’t thought of. Then you should formulate your plan, review your plan with an objective person, and practice, practice, practice.

1. Formulate your plan

The first strategy, formulate your plan, comprises four steps:

The first step is to write down the actions and behaviors the difficult person displays. Does the person get angry easily? Does he shout? Is he aggressive? Is he obsessed with having power?

The second step is to write down how you’ve responded to the difficult person’s behaviors in the past. Did you get angry? Did you shout? Did you quietly withdraw? Did you become sarcastic?

The third step of formulating a plan is to evaluate your notes. Which of your responses, if any, seemed to improve your interaction with the difficult person? Which responses seemed to aggravate the situation?

The fourth step of formulating your strategy is to determine a course of action. Jot down everything that pops into your head. Your initial ideas don’t have to be realistic, or even serious. Just get them all on paper. When you’re done writing, examine the ideas until you find one you think is viable.

Write down your new plan and the date by which you’ll carry it out. Committing to a definite date takes your plan out of the realm of good intentions and makes it a practical reality.

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