There’s a single, powerful and highly effective tool for managing difficult clients (or employees, colleagues and bosses for that matter). For managing difficult people of all ilks, actually.
It’s a deceptively simple tool at first blush, perhaps so simple that you may be tempted to scoff at it. Dismiss it, even. It’s harder to use than it looks, because it takes commitment to master. Once mastered, though, it will be freely at your disposal and you’ll find that it can unlock even the most challenging conversations with difficult people at work. It’s a tool skilled mediators use because we know its power.
Here’s what it takes to master it. Are you up to the challenge?
- Adoption of a new belief. You won’t believe the tool at first, but if you’re skeptical, your doubt will shine through and leave you less able to use the tool with any real effectiveness.
- The ability to stop yourself when you find your hot buttons getting pressed by a difficult person. With the ability to stop yourself for a moment, you create space to remind yourself of your new belief, which will help you make different choices in your conflict conversation.
- Willingness to keep trying to use the tool until you master it. If you’re someone who tries a tool once, then grows frustrated when you can’t use it perfectly right away, then this tool probably isn’t for you. As with any major change in how you do something, you need a bit of commitment and the spine to pull it off.
That’s it. If you can do those three things, then this tool is one you may want to get right away. And you don’t even need to buy it. You don’t need to go anywhere to get it. All you need to have this tool at your disposal is to think a new thought.
The new thought is this: There are no difficult people.
If you’ve already started to scoff and dismiss, I challenge you to stop yourself. What if it really is true? How would it change how you act toward people you find difficult?
When you say, “He is a difficult person,” you have made “being difficult” part of the fabric of his being, part of who he is as a human. Then you act accordingly and are somehow surprised that he gets more difficult in the short or long run.
It’s entirely different to say, “I find him difficult,” or “He is acting very difficult right now” or “He has some difficult behaviors much of the time.” When you make those types of observations, then you set yourself up for the kind of question a masterful mediator knows to ask next: “What is it in the environment (or in my supervision, or my interactions with, or about his job duties) that’s contributing to such difficult behaviors?” Or, “How is our dynamic together making this more difficult?”
Psychologist Jeffrey Kottler, in his terrific book Beyond Blame: A New Way of Resolving Conflicts in Relationships (affiliate link), made this wise observation: “Every person you fight with has many other people in his life with whom he gets along quite well. You cannot look at a person who seems difficult to you without also looking at yourself.”
Say it out loud, see how it tastes on your tongue: There are no difficult people.
Then try this, also out loud: There are people who act in difficult ways or people I particularly find difficult. I, then, hold the key to unlocking those difficult conversations, at least as much as they do.