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SALT LAKE CITY — In daily interactions, we can all struggle with how to handle particularly strong personalities: What do I say? How do I respond? How do I not want to punch him or her in the nose? Thankfully, using a few tips can make those encounters a possibly positive experience.
Tip No. 1: Don't take it personally.
Hands down, this is the No. 1 response to eliminate most offense. In the book "If Life Were Easy It Wouldn't Be Hard," Sheri Dew shares that during one meeting with a few close women, she felt some frustration and finally left in perhaps not the happiest of states.
Later, before she could apologize, these same ladies brought over a casserole with encouraging words of, "We knew you were under a lot of stress and weren’t like yourself — how can we help?"
Tip No. 2: Give it nowhere to go.
When personal frustration is high, behavior changes are slow. Don’t react by making the other person shift her attitude, simply diffuse the situation.
A few years ago, I attended a class given by Gary and Joy Lundberg. Gary role-played with another person who acted as an angry co-worker, suddenly appearing and listing off all the things Gary had done wrong. After the person finished, Gary gently said, “Okay” and let it be.
In the moment it’s helpful to say things like, “I hear what you’re saying, but first — How are you doing?” or “Are you letting off some steam or do you want me to take action on this?” This lets the person know he or she was heard and that you’re focused on what needs to be made right. Later is the time to address being treated with more respect.
A "Studio 5" discussion
Tip No. 3: Look for the person's backstory.When we frequently deal with difficult people, we can tend to magnify their faults until they become “The Enemy.” Bring back their humanity by finding out more about them. Consider the person: is he struggling with illness, financial issues, a hard life?
Years ago, I shared a responsibility with a woman who seemed to care less for the vision and those we were over than for herself and working out. However, after one event, we washed dishes side by side and I asked her about her life. She told me about being on her own since her early teens and all that she had been through to get to this point in her life. I realized my concerns were petty and judgmental and saw her in a wonderfully new and real light.
Tip No. 4: Come back with humor.
When possible, and if it's humor and not sarcasm, this is a fabulous way to reduce the frustration. If someone is reading you the riot act, smile lovingly and say, “Got it — and just wondering, could you use a brownie or something?” or “You know, I respond better when the magic word is present … the word being ‘chocolate.’ ”
Tip No. 5: If all else fails, be kindly candid.
Share your thoughts privately and in a firm but loving manner. In fact, try to think the words “I love you” in your mind before you begin. Dr. John Gottman, a well-known marital therapist, says that more than 90 percent of conversations end the way they start.
So do a soft start-up, validate something good, then make a reasonable request: “I know this project is very stressful (soft start-up). I’m sure you've borne a great brunt of it, and you have done a terrific job (validation). For more effective communication, would it work for you to email weekly the to-do tasks so we are all on the same page?” Then rinse and repeat until a compromise can be found.
Try just one of these practices and hopefully you will enjoy a more positive close encounter with the difficult kind.
Connie Sokol is an author, speaker, TV contributor and mother of seven. Contact her at www.conniesokol.com.