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How to Interact With Difficult People

Learn practical strategies you can use to develop better working relationships with difficult people.

Almost everyone encounters a difficult person now and then in personal and professional life. The best defense against conflict in such a situation is to be prepared for interacting with difficult individuals.

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1. Be honest and direct.

State your concern from your perspective, for example:

  • I have a hard time concentrating when ...
  • I can’t meet my deadlines if ...
  • It’s hard for me to be positive when ...

2. Listen carefully.

  • Listen to what the other person is saying instead of getting ready to react.
  • Avoid interrupting the other person.
  • After the other person finishes speaking, rephrase what was said to make sure you understand it.

3. Avoid blaming.

Focus on the facts. Finding fault can prevent problem-solving.

4. Stay focused.

  • Discuss particulars; avoid generalizing.
  • Avoid getting sidetracked into discussing other problems.
  • Keep bringing the conversation back to the concern you’ve stated.

5. Say less.

After you state the problem, allow silence until the other person responds.

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Notice: The information on this page summarizes provisions of university policies and/or collective bargaining agreements. Refer to the Personnel Policies for Staff Members (PPSM) and local implementing procedures or applicable collective bargaining agreement for full text of referenced information.