Dealing with Difficult People

Dealing with difficult people is something we all do on a daily basis. This quarterly BOSS session was on that topic.

On Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 our panelists, Don Swift, Seonaid Acevedo and Craig Bolles, convened on the stage at The Forum in Wichita Falls to a crowd of over 100 people to discuss conflict resolution and How to Deal with Difficult People.

“Everyone, raise your right hand and repeat after me,” said Emily Kincaid, Marketing Director at the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank, “I am a difficult person.”

Emily is correct. We are all a difficult person to someone. It’s not easy to admit, but it’s true. When it comes to someone not fulfilling their job duties, getting along with co-workers, satisfying a hard-to-please customer, or recognizing the underlying causes of difficult behavior in an employee, boss or customer, we tend to have tunnel vision and lose sight of the big picture and end up falling short at resolving a conflict.

If we can step back and re-evaluate how we approach the difficult person or situation, we will find that there are very basic, yet IMPORTANT skills that help us deal with difficult people and situations.

  1. LISTEN – This is the number one step in dealing with a difficult person. Everyone wants to feel heard! Actively listening and acknowledging (validating) the cause for upset or bad behavior
  2. Be Respectful – No matter how the other person is treating you or speaking to you, do not show contempt, ridicule or judgment. Doing so will escalate the situation.\
  3. Validate – Once you’ve listened to the underlying cause or complaint, validating it will continue to ease the situation. Repeat the complaint/issue and the cause. A negative reaction from us can make difficult people…more difficult.
  4. Finding Commonality – When it’s someone you have trouble connecting to (ie. getting along), finding something you have in common will go a long way to helping you to each be more amenable to finding solutions, together. This goes back to being able to LISTEN effectively.
  5. Maintain a calm demeanor. When faced with a conflict, remember to relax your outward appearance, uncross your arms, open your body language and monitor your breathing. Emotions can feed on each other. Reflect your behavior onto them, instead allowing their emotions to affect you. This leads us to…
  6. Lower your voice. When a difficult person has a raised voice, they want to be heard. If you speak at their level, the volume continues to rise. By lowering your own voice, it will force them to lower theirs in the effort to hear what you are saying.
  7. Maintain eye-contact. Eye-contact has a persuasive effect upon the people you encounter. By maintaining it, you exhibit confidence and control of the situation.


Chamber Key Takeaway:

 Listening !!!

By listening, you’ll discover any hidden need or cause of difficult behavior.

Craig Bolles, GM at Texas Roadhouse, explained that they had an employee that was scheduled to be at work at 3:45 pm, but was consistently 10 minutes late. Coworkers were getting upset, it was affecting the flow of work and it could have been a cause to terminate.  But, Craig listened to her when she explained why. Her child got out of school at 3:30 and she had to pick her up and take her to daycare by 3:45 which put her 10 minutes late.  Craig thought, “Why are we scheduling her at an impossible time?” A simple solution was to change her schedule to 4:15 pm and she was never late again!

Listening to anyone, with your full attention, shows respect, understanding and gives validity to their concerns and thoughts.

Don Swift: Don Swift & Associates
Soenaid Acevedo: Management at Blue Cross/Blue Shield
Craig Bolles: Managing Partner for Texas Roadhouse

Staff Picks :

TKI Assessment-
The TKI assessment applies these to the five conflict-handling modes listed below. By applying the basic two dimensions of Assertiveness and Cooperativeness to the five conflict-handling modes, you create the five major combinations possible in a conflict situation.

  • CompetingIs assertive and uncooperative. In this mode, you try to satisfy your own concerns at the other person’s expense.
  • CollaboratingIs both assertive and cooperative. In this mode, you try to find a win-win solution that completely satisfies the concerns of both individuals involved.
  • CompromisingIs intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. In this mode, you try to find an acceptable solution that only partially satisfies both individual’s concerns.
  • AvoidingIs both unassertive and uncooperative. In this mode, you work to sidestep the conflict without attempting to satisfy either individual’s concerns.
  • Accommodating: Is unassertive and cooperative. In this mode, you try to satisfy the other person’s concerns at the expense of your own concerns.


Learn more on what the Thomas Kilmann Instrument is and how you can get your evaluation: An Overview of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

The next B.O.S.S. (Business Owners Sharing Solutions) is “How to give amazing customer service” on March 26th at 9 am. See more event information.

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