At some point during the week, it’s going to happen. It might come from that one negative team member or that awful (but deep-pocketed) client, but someone is going to march into your once-tranquil world and do something that really, really gets your blood boiling.
No need to worry though. Talane Miedaner, founder of LifeCoach.com , has a clever four-step script to communicating with difficult people —with both firmness and kindness—that she shared in a recent webinar for the Alumni Career Services Network.
Before we get into it, there is one important tip that she stresses when delivering any of these four steps: Keep your tone as flat and neutral as possible. This will keep the focus on the message—not to mention prevent any escalation of the situation.
The first step is to simply inform the person how he or she has offended you while keeping your voice even and neutral. The examples that Miedaner gives are: “Do you realize you’re yelling at me?” or “Do you realize you’re 15 minutes late?” For many people, this one step will get you pretty far. If the person quickly realizes his or her error and apologizes, you can pretty much stop here. The observant ones will even file this knowledge away and learn from the experience.
Of course, there are the repeat offenders or the ones who can’t catch a hint. If the person starts acting defensive or angry, Miedaner suggests making a specific request next. Something like, “Can I request that you lower your voice?” or “I’d like to make a request that, in the future, you respect my time ,” is considerate—but shows that you’re serious.
Stage three is when you introduce an actual consequence. This is for serial offenders or people who continue to escalate the situation despite informing or requesting. The consequence that Miedaner uses is getting up and leaving: For example, “If you do not lower your voice, I will leave,” or “Next time, I will wait 10 minutes and if you do not show up by then, I will leave.”
As a last resort, you have to actually follow through on the consequence you’ve introduced and leave. Some situations (and people) are easier to walk away from than others, but not setting the boundaries allows for difficult situations to continue creeping into your work. So, when the time comes, you have to leave. Make sure that you clearly explain that you welcome contact again once the behavior is corrected, then go.
This kind of thing is never easy, but following Miedaner’s steps gives you a strategy for dealing and, with any luck, a chance that the expectation is now in place to prevent difficult situations in the future.
Photo of distressed man courtesy of Shutterstock .
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author