4 Steps to Manage a Difficult Encounter

How to diffuse a difficult encounter in situations involving difficult people


At some point, everyone will run into a difficult encounter with difficult people. However, by using several key techniques, you can help understand why those people are being difficult and rationally lessen the impact of the encounter.

Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series on maintaining composure and managing a difficult encounter with difficult people.


We all encounter difficult people and situations. As I discussed in part one of this series of articles, “Dealing With Difficult People  – 4 Reaction Steps,” the cause of the “difficult” encounter is sometimes us – or at least our perception of the encounter. On other occasions, the other person is having a bad moment or day or, in some situations, is perhaps generally difficult. In either case, you can learn to better navigate and resolve an encounter by assessing context and managing your and the other person’s emotions.

Assess Context

Context means the circumstances of a situation, such as location, time, surroundings and people. However, context also refers to information that clarifies “meaning”, which can include who the people are, how they’re feeling and how you’re connected. You have to look around, size up the situation and ask a few questions. With preparation and practice, you can learn to do this quickly.

Examine the setting: Consider where you are and what and who are around you: Are you in a professional, personal, public, private or work setting? What other resources, people or problems are impacting the encounter?

Identify the other person’s status: Is he a customer, member of the public, co-worker, supplier, someone’s mother and so on. It can also include the person’s “emotional” role as the agitator, aggressor, anxious parent or mistreated client.

Determine your role: By reminding yourself of your role, you can gain a better perspective on how to approach the person and situation. This doesn’t mean your role should necessarily limit what you do, but it should inform it. You may find that your role changes or evolves as you go along, but keeping your primary role in mind can be useful.

Clarify the problem: This is not always easy because sometimes the problem is the person. However, as you can’t change the person during the moment, you need to hear his perspective on the problem.

Once you’ve assessed the context, your next action is to determine how you’re going to proceed to resolution. In some circumstances, you may want to relocate the conversation. You can ask the person if he’s comfortable discussing the problem in the current location. If you feel it’s safe, you may relocate to a private location or simply relocate to another public location. By changing the location, by walking or moving to sit down, you can begin to change the dynamics and this, in turn, can help the other person regain perspective.


Tara Orchard
Tara Orchardhttp://ca.linkedin.com/in/taraorchard
Tara Orchard is a coach, trainer, consultant and writer who applies her insights into people and Masters training in psychology to facilitate performance improvements, relationships and communication for people and businesses. She has worked with organizations to deliver clarity on culture and brand, develop their people and manage relationships with social network communities. Over the past 18 years she has consulted with 1000's of people who want to make effective transitions in their lives. Tara has a knack for hearing what people are thinking and helping them see what they need to see. She is the founder of her own career and social network coaching business, works with several other organizations as a coach and consultant and is about to complete her first book on the "psychology of effective social networking".

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