4 Steps to Manage a Difficult Encounter

difficult encounter


4 Steps to Manage a Difficult Encounter

1) Ask some questions: The process of asking questions to assess context helps you gain perspective and clarity. Ensure that you ask questions with a measured voice and tone and provide the person with time to think and respond. Consider questions that show you’re paying attention based on your perception of the situation. For example, you can say, “It appears that you’re upset. Can you tell me what happened?” Or “I would like to hear why you’re frustrated. Can you explain what brought you here today?” Or “I heard that you were concerned about ________. Can you share with me what happened?”

You may also ask if this is the first time the person encountered this problem and/or if he has previously tried to resolve it with other people or in other ways. Getting someone talking by showing your desire to listen can change the person’s emotions from feeling alone and vulnerable to feeling part of a team trying to resolve his concern.

2) Demonstrate that you’re listening:  Very often, people need to know someone is acknowledging their experiences. You must really be listening, and that requires being in the moment (as discussed in the part one of this series). Not that long ago, I had to call my child’s school to express my concern over a situation that appeared to have been poorly managed. When I spoke to the principal, I briefly explained that I was concerned over the situation. I was calm and didn’t sound agitated, but I could tell right away, even over the phone, that he was not paying attention. His response to my concern was to say, “I’m happy to hear that. I’m busy right now. Can you contact me again in a few weeks to discuss it further?”

As you listen, pay attention to how a person reacts. Clarify and paraphrase back what the person said to confirm your understanding before moving the conversation forward.

3) Share information: Sharing information about your “brand” (how you or your business operates), your processes, past positive experiences and your perception on the situation can be helpful. Offer the information in small amounts. Don’t “quote policy” but be ready to inform the person of his options to resolve the current situation. In some cases, all you can say is “I’ll look into this.” Don’t be quick to throw someone under the bus until you know the entire story. Sometimes a difficult person really has drawn the short end of the stick and other times he’s just being difficult.

4) Ask for Suggestions: Involve the person in the resolution process. You can ask him what he was expecting but didn’t receive, what steps he would like to see in place for the future and/or how you can help him resolve his concerns. You don’t have to agree that his concerns were valid; you’re simply beginning the process to move to resolution.

Effectively Resolving Issues

Each of these steps is designed to help build a momentary relationship based on a mutual desire to address and resolve a problem, not lay blame or prove a point. Most problems are better resolved by acknowledging the other person’s concerns and emotions even when you do not understand or agree with the cause of his concern. Looking at people first—and not the problems—can enable you to more effectively resolve any issues.

Relared articles:

Dealing With Difficult People –4 Reaction Steps

How Connected Employees Can Lead to Disruptive Change


About the author

Tara Orchard

Tara Orchard is a coach, trainer, consultant and writer who applies her insights into people and Masters training in psychology to facilitate performance improvements, relationships and communication for people and businesses. She has worked with organizations to deliver clarity on culture and brand, develop their people and manage relationships with social network communities.  Over the past 18 years she has consulted with 1000's of people who want to make effective transitions in their lives. Tara has a knack for hearing what people are thinking and helping them see what they need to see. She is the founder of her own career and social network coaching business, works with several other organizations as a coach and consultant and is about to complete her first book on the "psychology of effective social networking". Tara invites you to connect with her on LinkedIn .