Carolyn’s 7 C’s for Dealing with Difficult People

Hello! I have had several executive coaching clients lately who are struggling with negative people in their organizations. This, as you know, is not uncommon, unfortunately. Through the years, I have come up with a list of action steps, as we often feel so powerless when we are dealing with people whose behavior and attitude are toxic. I call it:

“Carolyn’s 7 C’s for Dealing with Difficult People” 

  1. Be Clear.  Have your facts ready and know what you want to say and ask for.  Stay objective and stick to the subject.. One of the ways negative people maintain their power is that they say things that surprise and sting. As with most human behavior, once we analyze the situation, we realize that there are patterns, and we can plan for them. When less surprised, we can keep our balance.
  1. Use the power of Conversation.  “The conversation IS the relationship.”  (Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations).- Sometimes it helps to have a “heart to heart”conversation with this type of person and let them know how much their behavior impacts us. We just need to remember that it may not change their behavior (in the long run) but we have drawn a line in the sand and articulated out loud how much it means to us. The truth is powerful.
  1. Count to 10 before responding when tension is high. (This includes email.) Don’t press “send” when you are upset! And keep emotions out of email. And walk away and breathe before responding when they say something particularly ridiculous.
  1. Conjure up your Courage to do the right things and say the truth. Speaking the truth about this type of situation sometimes means we need to take it higher –to our boss, the person’s boss, to HR. This type of person can cast a dark pall over a work group, and it is our responsibility as leaders to advocate for a healthy culture.
  1. Create an image in your mind of this person that increases your empathy.  Remember that they have a mother.  They were a kid once, too, etc. And remember that negativity is often rooted in pain, fear, and powerlessness.
  1. Cushion the relationship with diversions: food works well. So do stories, art, and laughter. Keeping it light is really important here, and showing others that there are way more important things than swimming in these negative waters. Bring in bagels, go for a walk, get people to tell jokes. It can be a great counter-weight.
  1. Know how to use your Charm.  When we walk in our own power and truth, and foster the great relationships we can build with our team and peers, our light outshines frustration and negativity. Remember to remind yourself of your strengths and gifts, and walk down the hall with them on display! Good luck!

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