One of the secrets of dealing with difficult people in our lives is to figure out how to play the hand we’re dealt, rather than complaining and moaning about what is in that hand. When two people are locked in silent conflict, the best way to break the impasse is to talk!

This applies especially to cases of mutual misunderstanding. Don’t be too quick to tell your side, but concentrate first on listening to the other person. Of course, if that person has hurt or annoyed you and doesn’t know it, saying something about how you feel keep your resentment from prolonging the silence or escalating the situation. If you have tried to open up the lines of communication and things have taken a bad turn or turned sour here are some tips you could try to return the situation to safer ground:

  • Don’t React. Take time to cool off and gather your emotions. The most natural thing to do when faced with a difficult person or situation is to react. Give yourself time to think and remain focused on identifying the real needs and interests of the other person and yourself. Deep breathing and counting to ten is very helpful.
  • Deal with Feelings. Helping the other person identify or acknowledge their feelings tends to reduce the intensity of those feelings and allows the person to focus on the underlying issues. By encouraging and permitting the expression of negative feelings without fear of reprisal or punishment, you have increased the probability that your similar emotional expressions will be better accepted.
  • Attack the Problem, Not the Person. Keep an objective eye on the problem and detach any feelings about the person presenting it. Try to understand what the actual problem is and generate possibilities for settling it. Don’t attack the other person but try to see the situation from their point of view. If you make assumptions about their behaviour, verify by asking or repeat what you thought you heard. Show respect, try not to interrupt, and avoid using hostile words that inflame.
  • Practice Direct Communication. Speak directly to the other party. Use “I” statements and be clear about points of agreement, about purpose, and about needs. Use body language to show support and attention. Ask questions to clarify and paraphrase what the other person is attempting to communicate to you. Ask problem solving questions. Avoid “why” questions.  Other people can provide you with some very important information about yourself, positive and negative, and you can provide equally important information helpful to them. Words alone do not convey this information, so be aware of your body language and tone of voice.
  • Focus on the Future. Proving or disproving past allegations may not be of value to a continuing relationship. Give the other person ownership in the resolution. Don’t sell your ideas but engage in a joint problem solving discussion. Ask what’s important and be sure agreement is reached in dignity and respect for each of you. Any ongoing relationship you have with someone is longitudinal and can be altered to be constructive and improved. What just happened may be important or it may be trivial depending on how you want to make it appear just now. Remember, in a marathon you must pace yourself and believe that things will improve if only you give it the chance.

You don’t end the silence by trying to control other people’s behaviour but by changing yourself in relation to them and knowing what steps to take can make all the difference.

The key to handling a difficult situation is realising that we can always take control of it. A simple reframing of your mindset can do wonders to ease a stressful scenario.