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Self-enhancement

How to deal with difficult people

by Christina Tai

Enhanced communication skills in dealing with difficult people can help achieve positive results

Katie O'Hara and Rob James, executive consultants, Connect Communication

At a recent Career Times seminar on "Dealing with difficult people", expert speakers shared their skills on enhancing communication with problematic colleagues and explained what it takes to reduce the risk of confrontation.

"There is no such thing as a problem person, only problem behaviour," noted Katie O'Hara, executive consultant of Connect Communication.

She said that much depends on matters of perception, since what appears to be a major problem to one person could seem relatively minor to someone else. Whatever the difficulties, the most important thing is to find common ground for discussion. Then, progress can be made.

Ms O'Hara compared good interpersonal communication to dialling a telephone number: if you get the sequence wrong or omit one key part, you won't get through. She went on to delineate four common types of difficult people and how to deal with them.

One-on-one communications

This six-step approach is structured to maximise communication and to facilitate gathering the information needed to resolve conflicts:

1 ASK
Inquire how the other person feels or thinks. Let them speak, even if they are criticising management or co-workers.
Example: "I notice you have not been your usual self recently. Is there a problem?"

2 LISTEN
Do not react immediately or interrupt if your management skills or personal style are criticised. Sit back and wait until the other person has finished.

3 PROBE
If something is unclear, check your understanding. Recapitulate and remain non-judgmental.

4 SPEAK
Say what you feel and think, and why. "Seek first to understand, then be understood," as it says in the Seven habits of highly effective people.

5 RECOMMEND
Suggest or ask the person for ideas, trying to create consensus.

6 CONSENSUS
Agree on small things and search for common ground in order to start moving in the right direction. Schedule a time for further discussion if no agreement can be reached.

The C-A-P Model

Rob James, executive consultant of Connect Communication, said that the CAP model helps tremendously in handling complaints and sensitive issues. He explained that there are three key steps:

1 Concern
Show genuine concern and listen with empathy, so the other person can express their negative emotions.

2 Ask / Action
Ask appropriate questions to clarify the issue, identify problems, and decide on action to be taken.

3 Position / Perspective
Explain the company's position in order to put things in perspective, but obviously this must be done with care.

If dealing with awkward customers, carefully consider what kind of apology is appropriate. Sometimes, it helps to highlight that "this has never happened before", when the problem is a one-off. Customers can also be reassured that it won't happen again.


Taken from Career Times 15 September 2006

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