3 Steps for Dealing with Difficult People in Business
I was sitting on the train the other day speaking with an ex-military-entrepreneur-business-student (yeah he’s done a lot of stuff) friend of mine. He had taken some business courses, then joined the military, and is now out of the military studying business again and doing some business of his own. We talked about lots of stuff: life, family, business, and politics, but one thing he said stood out to me.
My friend said that back when he was in the military he was supposed to report to guard duty, but suddenly came down with a nasty case of bronchitis. He told his supervising officer that he was so sick he couldn’t even leave his bed. This officer was supposed to report to the guy in charge of guard duty that my friend wouldn’t be there, but he didn’t.
Because the officer didn’t tell the guy in charge of guard duty that my friend wasn’t going to show up, the guy in charge of guard duty got in big trouble for being one guy short. As far as he was concerned, my friend was missing-in-action. He then called my friend, furious, and yelled at him for not being at guard duty. My friend’s first impulse was to react and yell back, but then he remembered a business communications course that he had taken before joining the military.
In his business communications course he had learned that the most effective way to deal with difficult people is to be rational. He ended the phone call, then waited a couple of days so that his emotions wouldn’t influence his reaction, then he wrote an email. In the email he started out by telling the guy in charge of guard duty that he was very sorry that his not showing up had gotten him into hot water. He then explained coolly that he had been so sick with bronchitis that he couldn’t leave his bed and that he had told the officer directly above him that he wouldn’t be at guard duty. He explained that it was not his fault that his supervising officer hadn’t passed along the information.
My friend sent the email and received no response. However, a couple of weeks later, he saw the guy again. The guy, who had been so angry at him before, came and shook his hand, apologized for being angry, and told him not to worry about it.
My friend’s rational approach to dealing with a difficult officer works in any situation. This approach works in dealing with difficult colleagues, difficult clients, family members, and other people with whom we associate. Let’s take a look at the important steps my friend took when he dealt with this officer:
- He didn’t react immediately. If we react immediately to such issues, our response will be derived from our emotions rather than from reason, leading more likely to an argument. My friend did well in waiting a couple of days to respond.
- He started his email with an apology. This made it clear to the officer that he was not writing an email to attack him.
- He explained the problem using rational logic. Now that emotions were out of the game, he made clear to the officer exactly what had happened and why neither of them were to blame.