Health Advocate Blog

Getting along with others—even difficult people!

Misunderstandings are all too common in communicating with other people, especially when dealing with a headstrong know-it-all, a stoic, silent type, or some other personality that you find frustrating. You may feel that you are not being heard or taken seriously, or that you are being attacked if the person holds views vastly different from yours. Try to keep your emotions in check and use these tips to help make your interactions go more smoothly:

Practice the discussion ahead of time. This is especially important if you know the other person has strong, opposing views on a particular subject. Think about what the other person may object to in your conversation and consider your responses in advance.

Really listen to the person. And make eye contact. Do this, even if you find he or she to be irritating.

Avoid being judgmental and try to stay objective. Focus on the good and what they are doing right.

Show your respect and that you are open to the person’s opinions. Avoid frowning, looking away, rolling your eyes or checking your cell phone if you don’t agree with someone’s opinion.

Don’t dominate the discussion or interrupt. This is the one of the fastest ways to shut down a conversation! Be patient and pause between your sentences, allowing others to collect their thoughts and express themselves.

Avoid making speeches. Long-winded comments (even if you are a true expert on a subject!) make it impossible for people to comment on what you’re saying. Again, remember to give people a chance to respond, keeping in mind that some people take longer than others to form their thoughts into words.

Make comments that invite the other person to open up. You might ask, “What do you think?” or “Does this make sense?”

Use “I” statements to frame your thoughts and opinions. This is particularly important if you are engaging in hot-button subjects. Try saying, “I’ve always found that…” which avoids putting the other person on the defensive.

If the dialogue is going in the wrong direction, take a second to reflect. Consider if you’re doing anything to antagonize the other person. Are you being fair?  Have you been critical of the other person?

If the discussion is heading for a dead end, try to make a detour. You might try saying, “We talked a lot about this and it seems we aren’t going to agree at the moment, soI’d like to switch the subject to something more lighthearted” (current movies, or a community event, are often good neutral subjects).

When things get too contentious, exit gracefully. Sometimes the best ending is to say something like, “I see your point, and I guess we will just have to agree to disagree today, and I probably should get going and back to my work/chores/workout, etc.”

After having a difficult conversation, reflect on how you might improve your responses next time. If you are consistently having trouble communicating with other people, consider reaching out to a Licensed Professional Counselor or other behavioral specialist for guidance with communicating effectively.