First, avoid dealing with difficult family members.  Just kidding, we know that isn’t possible.  Whether at work or in our personal lives, we deal with difficult personalities, people under stress, tough customers, emotionally challenging life events, etc.  The COVID-19 pandemic only made the outbursts or emotional reactions worse.  So what can we all do?   

Here are the tips:

1. The first step is to listen.  Stay quiet and keep an open mind as you listen to someone who has a complaint or concern.  Avoid taking the issue personally if you can. Don’t talk over the person.  If you don’t have an immediate response, say so.  All of us are entitled to say, “I’ve heard you, I’m not sure how to respond, I need some time to consider your statements and respond.”  If you say that, be sure you think it over and then respond in a polite way. 

2. When you are listening to an angry or upset person, allow them to vent.  Consider their point of view.  Practice empathy, putting yourself in their shoes by considering how you would feel if “whatever complaint” happened to you.  Once they’re done, repeat back to them the most important points they made so they know you have listened.  It’s okay to say, “From what you’re telling me, I hear (fill in the blank.)”

3. Monitor your breathing and your voice.  When faced with a confrontational situation, you may not be able to control the tone and volume of the person arguing or complaining to you, but you can certainly control your own response.  Remember to breathe and keep your own tone of voice level.  You have the right to politely ask someone with an elevated voice to lower it.   “I can respond better if you lower your voice a bit,” is an example of what you can say. 

4. Don’t make any major statements or decisions if the complaint or confrontation has made you scared or angry. Remember, your brain does not function properly when you are scared, tired, hungry, stressed or angry.  Avoid final statements such as “I quit,” or “I’m never talking to you again,” in a highly emotional setting.  Allow some time to pass and your body to physically calm down before assessing the situation again and making a final decision on how to react.  If it’s a work situation and you have reached a dead end in how to respond, involve other team members and ask for advice.  If it’s a personal situation, decide how much contact you want to maintain with someone who makes you feel badly. 

5. Act as though you are on camera.  Imagine everything you do or say is being recorded and will be played back for your mother and father.  (I still hear my mom’s advice in my head, more than a decade since she passed away.)  Imagining that you are on camera will make you more likely to choose the right words, moderate the tone of your voice, control your emotions and keep your professionalism or your personal dignity intact. 

This isn’t really a tip, more of a value belief, but you should avoid harsh criticism, swear words, labels and cruelty in general.  If you don’t like someone at least be polite.  If you have a complaint to make about a situation or a person, do it during a reasonable hour, such as banking hours.  Late night calls, fights during parties, even business complaints are never positive after hours, especially after people have been drinking, are tired or are obsessing over an issue. 

Do the right thing the first time.  If for some reason you do the wrong thing, admit it and apologize.  No one enjoys being around people who won’t admit any faults or wrongdoing. It’s just not realistic.  If you think you don’t make mistakes, you are making a big mistake.  

Fill your mind with positive thoughts, your day with positive deeds and your mouth with positive words.  You just might win over some of those difficult people.