Five Tips From a Lawyer on How to Deal With Difficult People

Yes, you can stay calm when dealing with difficult people. Here’s how.
Woman shaking hands how to deal with difficult people

Whether you’re involved in a legal process or confronted at the PTO meeting or in the grocery store, managing difficult people is a skill we must all utilize regularly. Since it’s impossible to avoid all confrontations or challenges, it’s best to be equipped with tools to help deal with the scenarios you may come across in life. Below are five tips that Church, Church, Hittle + Antrim suggests for dealing with difficult people.

Tip #1: Treat the Other Person as You Wish to Be Treated

white woman sitting in front of white background with dirty blonde curly hair smiling with teeth wearing a silky pink blouse with a black blazer over
Leslie Craig Henderzahs

My own motto, which my children know well, is to treat others in a way which will make your grandmother proud — sincerely treat others with kindness. Whether you can relate with their perspective or not, demonstrate compassion to their position. No one likes to feel misunderstood, so say what you can to help them understand that you recognize their perspective on the challenge or issue. Use language like “I’m sorry you feel…” or “What can I do to help” to bring down the temperature of the conversation and take compassionate control of the direction of the confrontation or discussion.

It is refreshing when you can get to know someone from THEIR perspective rather than their reputation or position in business. Realizing the goodness in others, no matter their disposition in the business matter, helps reveal the true goodness of the other person, brings the good qualities to the surface, and reminds all of us we prefer pleasant positive relationships far more than conflict.

Tip #2: Pleasant Articulation Upon Disagreement

Condoleezza Rice once (famously) said, “I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity.” Follow her lead when managing difficult people. Disallow anyone to bring your integrity into question, but do so pleasantly and by articulating yourself as pleasantly as possible. Be aware of your tone of voice, your phrasing, and the entire way in which you are presenting your point.

Tip #3: Disarm and Work to Find a Solution Rather Than an Impasse

white woman with medium length blonde curly hair smiling with teeth wearing a silky pink blouse with a black blazer over
Leslie Craig Henderzahs

Once a difficult person has adequately communicated what has them upset or what they’re trying to achieve, be actionable and focus on solutions. Offer one or two suggestions to help resolve the issue at hand. Offering solutions, even ones that don’t solve the problem immediately, helps offer peace of mind to the difficult person and shows them that you are not a passenger in the interaction, but instead a driver.

Tip #4: What Motivates the Other?

In order to de-escalate, understanding their “why” is key; or in other words, what motivates the other. Sometimes people don’t have the tools to communicate properly and the result of that can be anger or frustration. Try to look beyond the outward emotion and really understand their why — what has them upset, why they feel that way, or how you can see yourself feeling that same way in a similar situation. That humanizes the difficult person and hopefully makes you more likely to relate with them, which helps when working toward a resolution.


Tip #5: What is a Win-Win?

When agitated, difficult people can be boisterous and highly emotive. Instead of participating in escalating the situation, consider a solution in which both parties can “win.” Finding a solution that falls in a shade of gray — not completely your way, nor completely theirs — will help keep a difficult person in a better frame of mind and will increase the likelihood of them landing on a solution that suits their needs and desires, as well as yours.

Created in partnership with Church Church Hittle + Antrim.

Leslie Craig Henderzahs is a partner at Church, Church, Hittle + Antrim.

As Indy Maven’s exclusive legal partner, Church, Church, Hittle + Antrim is a full-service law firm with six locations throughout the state of Indiana. They’re here to help Hoosiers handle the impact of any legal issues or challenges, from family law challenges to estate planning to personal injury, and beyond. Contact them today for a partner you can trust.

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