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Man yelling in phone

5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

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Whether you are an inspector, code enforcement officer, permitting clerk or administrator, you’ve probably dealt with a difficult person in the workplace. A disgruntled co-worker. An angry community member. A building or business owner. These situations are difficult at best and dangerous at worse. Let’s discuss how to deal with difficult people.

Listen and be alert

The key when dealing with a difficult person is to always be alert, don’t let your guard down. Know the warning signs. Listen for the changes in their voice (volume, tension). Watch for the tell-tale warning signs in their body language. Once you’re able to note when the tensions are rising, you may be able to diffuse the situation quickly without incident. Above all, most people just want to feel like they have been heard. Utilize active listening skills and try to diffuse the situation before it becomes larger.

Check your ego at the door

It is important for you to stay calm. Do not add to the tension by allowing the situation to emotionally charge you. Losing your temper could trigger the difficult person into action. Importantly, check your ego at the door. The majority of the time, the person is not angry with you. Perhaps it is the situation and possibly something else entirely. However, this does not mean you should be a doormat. Be firm, but fair and remain rational.

Show empathy and compassion

Treat the other person with respect, even if they have not earned it. Most of us work in a service providing industry and the way we act reflects not only on us but our employers too. Empathy and compassion go hand in hand. Try to determine the cause of the underlying issue, offer compassion and understanding. There may be a hidden need. Remain clear and focused on finding a resolution.

The truth is, you can’t reason with an unreasonable person.

Barbara Markway Ph.D.
20 Expert Tactics for Dealing with Difficult People

Do not issue demands

Issuing demands in an already volatile situation may not help resolve the issue when dealing with a difficult person. Offer clear solutions and resolutions. Providing options starting with the positive first and then move from there. Carefully detail consequences in a factual manner and verify the person understands. The majority of the time, people will choose the option that best serves their interest.

Anger in an escalated situation will only result in more anger. Keep it in check.

Protect yourself and trust your instincts

What if the issues escalate? When dealing with a person who is irrational, it is wise to keep some space between you for your safety. Going along with the first tip, be alert – trust your instincts. If you feel like the situation is escalating beyond your control, you need to safely remove yourself from the situation and call a higher authority for a resolution. If you are that authority, follow through with the consequences that have been discussed and carefully proceed in the manner in which you were trained.