Dealing with difficult people the easy way

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					                              difficult people

     Dealing with difficult
      people the easy way

        This article gives you some                              here will have been parts of    about your own thoughts and feelings.

        tips on how to manage
        difficult people in such a
        way that everyone —
        including yourself — is
                                                   T             your undergraduate course —
                                                                 and certainly part of the
                                                                 preregistration year — that
                                                                 focus on communication
                                                   skills. After all, much of your day-to-day
                                                   work will be with people: staff, customers,
                                                                                                 Indeed, if you find it tricky to hide your
                                                                                                 feelings in a difficult situation, it may be
                                                                                                 helpful to explain what you suspect your
                                                                                                 behaviour is showing (eg, “my irritation is
                                                                                                 not with you but that this should have
        satisfied with the outcome                 other health care professionals and a host
                                                   of others. (The word client is used in this      Be aware of the types of situations (and
                                                   article to cover them all.) It will not be    people) that trigger unhelpful responses
                                                   surprising if you find some of these          from you. Understanding why gives you
                                                   people difficult to deal with.                the opportunity to modify your behaviour.
                                                                                                 Learn from the bad experiences! People
                                                     Remember to use what you have learnt        that we find difficult are those who:
                                                   about both verbal and non-verbal
                                                   communication. The same phrase said           ◗   Put us on the defensive
                                                   with different intonations and body           ◗   Make us lose our control
                                                   language can completely change the            ◗   Generate negative feelings in us (such
                                                   meaning!                                          as guilt, frustration, anxiety, inferiority)
                                                                                                 ◗   Stop us from doing what we want to
                                                   Know yourself                                     do or make us do things we are
                                                                                                     unhappy about.
                                                    t is most important that you remember
                                                   Ithe only person who truly knows what
                                                   you are thinking and feeling is yourself.
                                                                                                    So, next time you find yourself talking
                                                                                                 about “that difficult person” ask yourself
                                                   Others may think they know (and will          in what ways did their behaviour make
                                                   respond accordingly) but what they are        your life difficult? How can you change
                 Ailsa Benson is a freelance       reacting to is your behaviour. So you need    your own behaviour so as to change the
                      consultant with over 20      to develop a fine understanding of            client’s behaviour?
                            years’ experience in   yourself — monitoring and managing your
                                                   own behaviour.                                  What we often do is react in such a way
                   education and training in                                                     as to make the problem worse — we try
                           community pharmacy          There is nothing wrong with being open    to defend our position rather than try to
68 tomorrow’s pharmacist
                                                                                              difficult people

                                              ◗   Head nodding                                ◗   “I would like to do a little more to
                                              ◗   Positive body stance.                           recognise the trouble you have
                                                Useful phrases include statements
                                              such as:                                           If their solution is something you
                                                                                              cannot meet, offer alternatives as close
                                              ◗   “I can imagine how disappointed you         as possible to what the client wants and
                                                  are”                                        is reasonable. Offering alternatives is
                                              ◗   “So you had hoped that . . .”               important as you are handing the choice
                                              ◗   “What happened next?”                       (and the apparent power) back to the
                                                                                              client. But be sensible about the
                                                Once you have dealt with the feelings         alternatives — two is good, three ok. But
                                              then (and only then) you can move onto          no more. And, obviously, these
                                              the next step.                                  alternatives must be ones that are
                                                                                              sensible under the circumstances.
                                              Agreeing what the problem is
                                                                                               Useful phrases include:
                                                t is important that you understand what       ◗ “If we did that then . . . , so I suggest
                                              I the problem is from their perspective.
                                              This can sometimes be surprisingly
                                                                                                that perhaps we could . . .”
                                                                                              ◗ “Perhaps . . . or . . . would other ways
                                              difficult but until you have agreement on         forward?”
                                              what the problem is then progress will be       ◗ “What we can do is either this . . . or
understand their perspective. We take         limited. It can often be helpful to say           that . . .”
their insults personally rather than          something like:                                 ◗ “The options that we seem to have
understand they come from some deep                                                             are . . . or . . . or . . .”.
anxiety or frustration. An angry person       ◗   “So you had hoped that. . .”
probably has a need that isn’t being met,     ◗   “So, the . . . did/did not . . .”              If you really cannot offer any
and they think that you could be the          ◗   “So . . . failed to . . .”.                 alternatives (really?) and their solution is
means of solving the problem. This puts                                                       unacceptable then you must explain how
you into a potentially powerful position      Finding the solution                            rules or policies prevent you
So, do not take their behaviour personally                                                    implementing their solution. But — make
                                                   ou may be surprised at how often           sure that your explanation is specific to
Knowing them                                  Y    such people cannot tell you what they
                                              want. But if they do have ideas, then it will
                                                                                              the situation of the individual. Do not
                                                                                              generalise. Then make some alternative
 f you want to make progress then you         be more effective if you find out what they     suggestions that are allowed:
Ialso need to understand how the other
person is feeling. Do this by:
                                                Getting the difficult person involved in      ◗   “I realise that would seem to be a
                                              the solution process is critical. So say            good solution but we no longer stock
◗    Listening carefully to what the person   something like:                                     that”
     is saying                                                                                ◗   “I am allowed to refund £ . . . but for
◗    Trying to understand his/her feelings    ◗   “I can see we have a problem here.              a higher amount I will need to get
◗    Showing that you empathise                   What would you like me to do to help            head office permission. This usually
◗    Paraphrasing to show you understand          you?”                                           takes . . .”
     what the key issue is.                                                                   ◗   “Only my superior can make that
                                                There is of course no problem if the              decision. I will find out and come back
    Asking questions to clarify:              solution suggested is one that is                   to you before . . .”
                                              acceptable to you. Be positive about their      ◗   “What we can do is . . . or . . .”.
◗    The sequence of events                   solution — and if you feel that you could
◗    The expectations.                        actually improve on it, do not be afraid to     Agreeing who will do what and
                                              do so. Useful phrases include:                  when
  Remember to use appropriate non-
verbal language:                              ◗   “Thank you for your suggestion.”              f there is going to be some kind of delay

◗    Intermittent eye contact (never hold a
                                                  “That is very reasonable of you”
                                                  “That is a sensible solution”
                                                                                              I before the solution can actually be put
                                                                                              into practice, agree the timetable for this.
     gaze for longer than three seconds)      ◗   “I appreciate your telling me this”         And stick with it. If you do not agree a
                                                                                                                           tomorrow’s pharmacist 69
                            difficult people

                                                                                                     more opportunities for the client to

                                                                                                         Use a phrase such as:

                                                                                                     ◗    “Yes, I can see that should have been
                                                                                                          done. I am sorry.”
                                                                                                     ◗    “It is a mistake. I am sorry.”

                                                                                                       Show willingness to fix it and agree
                                                                                                     with the client how and when. Move the
                                                                                                     discussion on by saying something like:

                                                                                                     ◗    “ Let me see what I can do to correct
                                                                                                          the error.”

                                                                                                       And then correct it. If you don’t, you
                                                                                                     can be sure that the mistake will happen
                                                                                                     again – and to the same person!

                                                                                                     Needs and expectations

                                                                                                           f course, an article of this length

     timetable, clients will form their own            ◗   Gestures — in moderation, not
                                                                                                     O     cannot deal with the huge variety of
                                                                                                     situations that you will find yourself in.
     expectations about when this will                     continuously, natural                     Nor can it deal with assertiveness, and
     happen. They are likely to expect                 ◗   Accentuate the positive; eliminate the    this is an important aspect of dealing with
     something to be done immediately,                     negative.                                 difficult people. But I hope that you find
     whereas you know that it will take x                                                            the above a useful start. Remember that
     hours/days. Save further anger,                     Remember too that a difficult person        we all have needs. We also have
     frustration and disappointment!                   confronted by a blank-faced, cold and         expectations. Dealing with difficult people
     Summarise by using phrases such as:               non-responsive person is likely to            means meeting both their needs and
                                                       become even more difficult. Be aware too      expectations — even if those
     ◗    “So I will arrange for . . .”                that, sometimes, angry people who feel        expectations are greater than what we
     ◗    “This should take no longer than . . .”      that they are being dealt with badly will     might consider reasonable.
     ◗    “If we do/exchange/replace/refund . . .”     walk away. The problem may seem to
     ◗    “I will now . . .”                           have been solved from your perspective,          If needs and expectations are satisfied,
     ◗    “If you can wait five minutes then I will    but it has not. It has walked out of your     the client is in a neutral state. If needs and
          be able to. . .”                             domain and a negative message will be         expectations are exceeded, the client will
     ◗    “Within the next five days we will . . .”.   taken to others.                              have positive feelings. If either is not met,
                                                                                                     you will have a difficult person on your
         Making your behaviour persuasive              To admit or not?                              hands. Return to the start of this article or
                                                                                                     find out more about assertive (not
      Strategies include:                                   ometimes in dealing with difficult       aggressive) behaviour. j
       Positive voice tone
       No hesitations
                                                       S    people you realise that you have
                                                       made a mistake — either you personally
     ◗ Using open ended questions                      or one of your colleagues. It isn’t easy to
     ◗ Pauses and silences (to allow                   admit a mistake, particularly when much
       responses from the other person)                of your dispensing training has focussed
     ◗ Avoiding irritating phrases such as             on the imperative need for you to always
       “you know”, “ok” or “right”                     get it right. You won’t. Never be ashamed
     ◗ Looking at least half time at the               to admit your own mistakes there and
       person                                          then. Apologise for what happened.
     ◗ Holding eye contact for complete                Avoid explanations as to why — that puts
       thoughts (no more than five seconds)            you on the defensive and provides yet
70 tomorrow’s pharmacist

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