Copyright 2000 W. Jan Austin, Corporate Coach and President of Potential At Work, Inc. All rights reserved.

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You always have choices when confronted with a difficult individual.  You do, in fact, have five distinct choices you can make:


  1. You can stay and do nothing:  This means you choose to just let whatever it is go or that you choose to suffer.  You can suffer alone or complain to someone else who may not be able to do anything about the situation.  Doing nothing can be a self defeating choice because frustration builds up over a period of time which can make matters worse.  Meanwhile, you’ve postponed taking more effective actions.


  1. You can walk away:  Sometimes, this is the most effective choice when emotions are out of control and the voice of reason is inaudible.  Some conflicted relationships or situations are not resolvable, or the outcome may not be worth the energy which would be required to constructively redirect the conflict.  Continually walking away, however, when conflicts occur signals a less than ideal response.  If you walk away, you don’t have a chance to get your needs met in the relationship, and you carry your frustrations with you.  Meanwhile, you’ve postponed taking more effective actions.


  1. You can change your attitude:  An attitudinal shift on your part means you choose to see and hear an individual in a completely different way, even when the person continues to be difficult.  Shifting your attitude can enable you to get past the individual’s behavior to get a closer look at what the individual’s real intentions are.  Since most behavior is driven by positive intentions, even if it doesn’t initially appear that way, you will likely discover something of value by going this extra step.  Discovering the positive intention behind the behavior can open you and the other person up to having a conversation about the unintended consequences of that behavior as well as strategies which could be more effective.


  1. You can change your behavior:  Changing your behavior in response to a difficult person or any situation in which you are experiencing conflict is a powerful way to redirect the energy and emotion being experienced by both of you.  When you change your behavior, the other person has no choice but to respond to you in a different way.  This creates the opening for a more constructive response to the conflict to be surfaced.   Said another way, when you create an expectation for a different (more positive) outcome, you tend to get what you expect.  You have the power to bring out the best in others.


  1. You can respectfully request a behavior or attitudinal change in another person.  This request is most likely to be well received if you are also willing to examine your behavior or attitudes in the context of the current conflict.  Being respectful means addressing the person in a way that maintains his or dignity, assumes positive intentions (no matter what the outcome), and requesting the change without being attached to its being committed to just the way you requested.  People don’t change because others want them to—they change because they see personally relevant reasons to do so.  You must allow them the space to choose to change.