fence photo

In collaborative, cross-disciplinary, and cross-functional design projects, encountering the difficult person is inevitable.

In the opening interactions with a difficult person, a lot of their behaviours (hostility, obstructiveness, complaining, blaming, general negativity) trigger the fight or flight response in us. Since flight is often not a viable course of action, we can be tempted to fight back. A fence can be quickly built up between us, making subsequent interactions more difficult.

The one move that can avoid (or recover from) this situation is to get across to their side of the fence as soon as we can. And even to avoid building that fence to begin with.

How do we get on their side of the fence? Here is my list of useful actions:

The act of allowing a difficult person to speak, be heard, and be understood can go a long way to stripping out the "difficult" part. I have had difficult people turn into loyal allies in one conversation; just by working to be on their side.

Caveat: this tip only works on people who are situationally difficult. It does not work on people with sociopathic tendencies or a psychopathic narcissistic personality disorder.