Some people go to extraordinary lengths to be difficult. Think of the diva actress whose on-set needs can never be met or the boss who keeps moving the goal posts. The difficult person elevates the deliberate provocation to an art form. The underlying message is often, "Unless you agree with me and go along, you'll regret it."
Dealing with Difficult People is a Skill, one worth Cultivating ... Good Luck !!
- If you're required to respond to an irrational attack, ask the antagonist what exactly he is upset about, in order to show that you are interested in communicating rather than in arguing. The burden of responsibility is now back on the antagonist.
- After the unreasonable salvo, go ahead and agree with a kernel of truth in the complaint. You'll overcome your own Neanderthink impulse to jump into the fray by looking for that one small fact about which the critic is correct—and then agreeing with that single point. Your boss calls you a screw-up. Ask, "In what way did I screw up?" If he says, "You just are a screw up," agree with one discreet example (if it is accurate), but correct his overgeneralization.
- You can more easily and tactfully defend yourself once the emotional heat has abated. Say your boss says, "Again, you're totally screwing up." You can defend without a defensive tone: "It is true that I made a mistake, and I appreciate constructive feedback to minimize errors in the future." Stand up for yourself by reiterating the specific error, but refuse to be incorrectly labeled a screw-up.
- Offer to the difficult person your best guess as to what he or she is feeling, and ask for feedback. "It sounds like you're angry right now, and I'm sorry about that." This demonstrates a willingness to understand the difficult person's frustration without blame or defensiveness.
- Resist the urge to fight to win the argument. Listening and asking questions leads others to their own better conclusions. This process is known as the Socratic method. Although it didn't ultimately help Socrates, today's laws are a bit more enlightened—so it might help you.