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Dealing with Difficult People--Go Ahead, Rain on My Parade

"And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow."--Jerry Chin

Rain is vital to all life on earth, and is the main way that water from the sky fills our lakes and rivers, and provides nourishment and growth. Most of the time we do not look forward to the rain, but without it, we will most likely not be able to enjoy luscious fruits and vegetables, or experience the warm and moist feeling of green grass as it cushions our bare feet.

Interpersonal conflict is like a rain shower-a small local burst of rain that lasts a short time. Rain showers are usually of light to moderate intensity and likely to start and stop suddenly. You can predict when they occur by the rapid change in the sky's appearance as they approach. The same is true of most interpersonal conflict--those small micro-bursts of anger or disagreement that seem to flare up quickly and cease just as suddenly.

The aphorism rain on my parade reminds us of the unpleasantness of conflict. Yet, some unpleasant occurrences bring about better things. Conflict develops even among the finest of people. Whenever there is disagreement, a difference of opinion, a different approach, a departure from the way we do things around here, there is conflict. These little showers of light to moderate temper or anger are made to last just a short time. Yet, when we approach them the wrong way (and there is a wrong way), they can become full-blown conflict thunderstorms.

Unlike ordinary rain showers, thunderstorms are rain combined with wind and lightning. They form worldwide, spit out deadly lightning, band together to form hurricanes, and can spin up the world's fastest winds inside tornadoes. Been caught in any conflict thunderstorms lately?

THE REAL SECRET

While we cannot control or change others, we can take responsibility for our own actions, attitudes, and behavior. So how do we respond when people want to rain on our parades? Use The U-M-B-R-E-L-L-A:

U = Understand. Make an attempt to understand as well as to be understood. Don't let the other person's difficult behavior preoccupy you; then you can deal with it directly.

M = Manage. Manage conflict while it is occurring. Look for the real issue which is usually found at the root of the problem. Don't allow yourself to be distracted by minor spats or side issues that distract and get in the way.

B = Breathe. Use a variety of stress-reducing strategies when you are in the midst of conflict. Try breathing slowly and deeply to regulate stress producing adrenalin. Take a break when conversations get heated, and above all, control your impulses.

R = Respond. Remain calm and act in a non-defensive and non-reactive way. The ability to be calm in the face of conflict will help you to think more clearly and carefully.

E = Embrace. Go directly to those with whom you disagree or have a conflict. Avoid behind-the-back criticism. If this fails, then ask an objective third-party to act as facilitator in resolving the conflict.

L = Listen. Be quick to listen and when listening do so carefully. Summarize and check out what is heard before responding. Be slow to judge, avoid name-calling, and threatening.

L = Learn. Examine key learnings from the conflict. Conflict, though painful, is necessary for growth and maturity. Ask yourself, "What can I learn here? Do I need to change my behavior or offer an apology?" Enter into each conflict situation with a learning mindset.

A = Accept. Conflict is a normal part of life, so accept that it will happen and most likely happen often. The people we find the most difficult are also those who offer the greatest opportunities for growth.

WHAT ABOUT COMMUNICATION?

Wherever conflict exists, no matter what its cause or reason, communication has played a key role. Poor communication has either initiated the conflict or kept it going. Good communication will lead to a mutually agreeable solution. It promotes a give-and-take open dialogue that focuses on the problem not the emotion.

We all have difficult people in our lives-you know, those folks of radically differing viewpoints who anger, exasperate, frustrate, and nearly drive us out of our minds! Difficult people tend to rain on our parades. Just when things are going well and we're marching in the success procession, a short but violent conflict shower or thunderstorm will often break out. An instinctive response is usually not the best one because we are caught unawares. So we reply back with a storm of our own, and before you know it, a deluge accompanied by hurricane force winds floods our relationships and ruins our parades.

IN THE END, YOU MATTER?

You are responsible for deciding how you will respond to conflict and difficult people. The U-M-B-R-E-L-L-A along with good communication will ensure that you don't get wet!

So, let it rain...It's Just a Parade!

Althea DeBrule is co-owner of RADSGroup Organizational Consultants, a Stamford, CT based firm that helps organizations to increase their effectiveness and individuals to maximize their professional and leadership potential. She has over 30 years demonstrated and celebrated leadership experience both domestically and internationally in human resources and executive development. Entrepreneur and seasoned executive, she has focused throughout her career on helping workers achieve their career goals. For information on how The RADSGroup can help you with your career needs, visit http://www.radsgroup.com/

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