Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Managing Difficult People

My first career was as a counselor with children and families. It was very challenging in a good way for someone fresh out of college and rather idealistic. I particularly liked, and was adept at, working with difficult clients, such as oppositional/defiant teenagers, and people in difficult and stressful life situations.

My effectiveness in working with these types of people was due in great part to my “delivery.” In a way I was a pitcher, with the ability to effectively get the ball across the plate in a manner that allowed clients to hear what I was saying.

This concept is important to anyone who works with difficult people, regardless of setting – human services, business, customer service, etc. There are two parts to this process. Having the ability to feel people and having a good repertoire of pitches and deliveries.

In baseball, teams keep a book on the batters for opposing teams. Going into the game, a pitcher knows what kind of pitches a batter likes and what pitches he struggles with. In this analogy, we aren’t looking to strike anyone out. We are trying to be conscious of what a batter might be able hit out of the park. We want people to hear what we are saying, not groove it so they smash a line drive right back at us.

Most times, you can just lay things out to folks. But, some people can be defensive or have various predispositions that makes it hard for them to hear things. So, you may need to work the plate a bit before making your delivery. Soften them up to set up the message you want to get across.

This requires a good bit of intuition. The ability to “know” people generally, and the person you are dealing with specifically. You can have thoughts about people. But good pitchers very rarely are in their heads. They feel the moment, feel the energy. You have to be able to both think about what you are going to say at the same time you have a clear mind to be able to pick up on the subtleties of the individual as well as the moment.
Most successful pitchers have a good fastball. It does not need to be the 97 mph four seamer that you just blow by people. A standard 93 mph two seamer does the job most often, using your feel to move it around to different parts of the plate for effectiveness.

But, when interacting with difficult people it helps to develop some other pitches. Curveballs can be tricky and if not delivered perfectly can get rocked. It probably is best to develop your off-speed pitches. These are very effective with people who are in heightened states and are eager to swing for the fences. Good off speed pitches include:

Acknowledging the good intentions or positive attributes of the other person.
Taking a mildly self-depreciating tone.
Taking some personal responsibility upfront.
Changing your tone or pacing of how fast you are talking.

Finally, perhaps the most important factor is your ability to not get caught up in the moment. Keep in mind that people are people. With different personalities and temperaments. Who may very well be under great stress for reasons you may not have any awareness.

Accept people for who they are, with compassion. Anger is a secondary emotion that arises from the intensity of other more core feelings – fear, disappointment, being hurt, etc.

Stay calm. Don’t let moment overwhelm you or get too far into your own head. Feel the other person and focus on how you can best deliver your message.

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