Magazine article Momentum

HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY COMMUNICATE with a Difficult Person

Magazine article Momentum

HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY COMMUNICATE with a Difficult Person

Article excerpt

Have you ever experienced someone who's a real challenge? Perhaps it was a troubled student or an unreasonable, uncooperative parent or colleague. Fear is a primary emotion. Anger, hostility, rage, arrogance, blaming, denial and other similar responses are secondary. When a person is terrified, they act out. If you can tell yourself that this person who keeps testing your patience is driven by fear, that it isn't personal, it will help you have compassion for them - the first and most important step in breaking down barriers.

As a bullying survivor, author and speaker, I see fear all the time. I see what it does to people; how it can turn them into something they're not. I've held that scared, lonely kid in my arms who disrespected adults and pretended to be tough, whose dad beat him every night. I've witnessed a mom tear into a principal at a PTA meeting over something innocuous because her husband left her that week. Then, there's the teacher that's being bullied by another faculty member, who takes out her frustration in the classroom. When you're dealing with an unpleasant person, there's likely something in their life making them vulnerable. If you lead with truth and compassion, approach them in a way that helps to restore their sense of control and not threaten it further, they'll let their guard down and work with you.

In my faculty and parent workshops, I talk about the difference between authority and emotional credibility. The first is something you have over another person. The latter must be earned. There are three basic tenets of communication that build emotional credibility with children and adults. When practiced, you'll notice deeper, more meaningful outcomes to even the most fraught situations.

Specificity

The more specific you are with someone, the more validated they feel. The more general you are, the more dismissed they feel. That's why kids dislike "we'll see." They know it's code for "I don't want to deal with this right now and it's probably going to be a 'no' anyway." Here's a better approach. "I can't give you an answer right now. I need to consider it. Can you tell me why this is important to you?" Ask the child to be specific, thank her for that valuable information and let her know it will be important in your final decision. When you give her your answer, if it's "yes," explain specifically why, and if it's "no," also explain specifically why. This approach allows you the same wiggle room as "we'll see," but makes the child feel validated and not dismissed.

"I'll get back to you," is like the adult version of "we'll see." It may seem prudent in the moment, but if you've got someone desperate for answers, it can backfire, making them feel "managed." Instead, briefly explain your intended steps moving forward, offer a way in which they can help, and clarify expectations on both sides. …

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