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Manage Difficult People with this 4-Step Communication Tool

How to Manage Difficult People (even bosses and children) with Grace and Style

A great step towards improving your personal and professional relationships is listing your boundaries and making them known. Our boundaries are limits defining how we expect others to treat us and in particular, which behaviors we will not accept. As Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Setting new boundaries often requires that you re-educate those around you. In the past, you essentially ‘trained’ people to treat you in the way they currently do by allowing it without protest. By not objecting to unwanted behavior such as yelling or making rude remarks, you let others know that you accept this verbal abuse.

You can change how others treat you immediately by using the very powerful, 4-Step Communication strategy below. This model works on everyone from bosses to children, but in order for it to work, you must use a flat, neutral tone of voice during all four steps. No anger, righteousness, indignation or snide comments allowed. You may need to calm down ahead of time with a few deep breaths so that you are able to use a neutral tone. You’ll want to speak calmly, just as if you were stating a fact such as “The sky is blue.” It helps to practice first in front of a mirror.

The 4- Step Communication Tool:

  1. Inform. “Do you realize that you are fifteen minutes late?” or, “Do you realize you are yelling?” or, “I’d prefer to receive constructive feedback.” If they continue with the unwanted behavior, then take it to step 2, but only after you’ve tried step 1.
  2. Request. Ask them to stop. “I ask that when you are meeting me, you show up on time.” or, “I ask that you stop yelling at me now.” or, “I request that you only give me constructive feedback.” If they still don’t get it and the behavior continues, try step 3.
  3. Demand or Insist .(with consequences). “I’ll wait fifteen minutes and then I will leave.” or, “I insist that you stop yelling at me now.” If they persist, you take it to step 4.
  4. Leave. (without any snappy comebacks or angry remarks). “I am going to hang up now and we’ll continue this conversation later after we’ve both calmed down.” or, “I can’t continue this conversation while you are yelling at me. I’m going to leave the room now and we can discuss this later after you’ve cooled down.” You may leave the situation temporarily (by ending a conversation, hanging up the phone or leaving a room) or end up leaving the job or relationship permanently if you see that your boundaries will never be respected.

All four steps must be delivered in a neutral tone of voice just as you would say, “The sky is blue.” Do not raise your voice or get angry or you may not get the result you desire. The power is in the calm and neutral tone of voice. You’ll find that by using this communication tool at work you will gain more respect. Without strong and clear boundaries, you will not get the respect you deserve. Without respect, you will not get the raises and promotions you deserve. Ironically, people think they will annoy people by having clear boundaries, but it is the reverse. We only respect the people who have boundaries and enforce them with calm professionalism. If you don’t have boundaries or if they are weak or inadequate, people will take advantage of you and walk all over you. Yes, even nice people can’t help but walk on a doormat. And I’ve yet to see a doormat get promoted. Boundaries are critical to your success both personally and professionally. The sooner you learn them, the sooner you’ll get the respect you want.

Click here to listen to the 4-steps here in this short audio clip.

Coaching Tip: This is so important that it bears repeating: take the time you need to calm down before informing. If you inform and request neutrally, you will rarely need to go beyond steps 1 and 2. Although with children, you must be prepared for step 3 and have consequences with ‘teeth’ that you are prepared to enforce. Never threaten. For example, you might say,

  1. Inform: “Do you realize your toys are on the floor?”
  2. Request: “I ask that you tidy up your toys right now.”
  3. Demand or Insist: “If you don’t tidy up your toys, I will do it and when I do it, they go in a box for charity for poor children who don’t have any toys and will appreciate them enough to take care of them properly.”

This is a consequence with real ‘teeth’ that I have used with my own children. Now, all I have to do is head downstairs to get a box and the kids start scrambling like crazy to put their toys away. Consequences are not threats. Always follow-through with them. When you follow-through, people will know that you are serious and will take the appropriate desired action or suffer the consequences. It usually only takes one time before the offender changes his or her behaviour. And if they don’t…

  1. Leave. In this situation, you probably won’t abandon your children (although you might be tempted!) but you will take their toys to charity. One time will usually suffice.

Now, Raise Your Standards

The flip side of boundaries is standards—the conduct you hold yourself to. It doesn’t make much sense for you to have a boundary that people can’t make derogatory remarks about you if you abuse others in this way. By extending your own boundaries, you’ll be raising your standards. They go hand in hand.

You can choose your standards. For example: “I always tell the truth.” “I never raise my voice.” “I always show up on time.” “I don’t give advice unless asked.” Choose the standards you are ready for, not the ones you think you “should” have. Make a list of people you admire. Write down their best qualities, and think about the standards of behavior they hold themselves to. Now write down the standards you’d like to adopt.

It may take a few times of seeing you show up early before people realize you are now punctual, but they will start taking you more seriously immediately.

If you enjoyed this article you’ll like Communication Skills for Women in the Workplace even if you are a man.

Read more about boundaries and standards in The Secret Laws of Attraction: The Effortless Way to Get the Relationship you Want with permission from McGraw-Hill.

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Talane Miedaner
Talane Miedaner is a Master Life Coach and the founder of LifeCoach.com. She is the international bestselling author of Coach Yourself to Success: 101 Tips for Accomplishing Your Personal and Professional Goals (McGraw-Hill, 2014), Coach Yourself to a New Career as well as The Secret Laws of Attraction.