Defuse Difficult People

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Dealing with tough personalities can make you feel powerless. What can you do if your client is a being a jerk or your colleague is criticizing your presentation? You can improve the situation by doing three things:

  • Shift the attention. Focus on your own feelings. Say something like, “I feel terrible because I know this meeting is critical and I really believe in my proposal.” This helps you to keep the criticism external so you can respond thoughtfully.
  • Respond with a non-judgmental observation. Attacking back only escalates the situation. A statement like the one above disarms the other person and often he’ll back off.
  • Ask a thoughtful question. For example, if a client keeps taking calls during your presentation you might say, “I know you’re busy – is there a reason I’m not capturing your attention?” A question helps the other person become more aware of his behavior, and he might change it.

Adapted from “Defuse Difficult People” by Nina Godiwalla.