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Difficult relationships need messages of this specific kind

Global keynote speaker, business coach and workshop facilitator Stefanie Voss is often hired to take on team building assignments in large corporations. Regularly, she accompanies these teams over a number of years, conducting workshops on communications issues, collaboration procedures and process questions.

In this context, there’s one question that comes up time and again: How do you best deal with difficult people? Especially during the individual sessions with heads of departments or team leaders, this particular question is on the agenda of her coaching clients: How do I deal with an employee that I consider hard to handle? Can you learn something like that easily? Is there a standard procedure or do’s and dont’s list?

The leadership and communications expert Stefanie Voss knows from her own 15-year-coporate-experience: What helps is talking! Her simple advice is: If you are concerned about your relationship with a particular person, then speak with this person about it.

She’ll admit immediately: That’s not an easy task. But in such a situation, there is a simple rule you need to adhere to, and then it usually works out quite well. You have to consistently stick to the so-called „I-messages“. Always give your individual opinion. Appropriate phrases could be: „I feel that our relationship is difficult“ or „I’m not sure how we can communicate better with each other.“

With „I-messages“, you give your very personal view of the situation. You indicate that in your opinion, there’s a need for clarification. Approaching another person with this kind of openness and insecurity even, may pave the way for the other person to open up as well and to also admit his or her insecurities. Then it’s not about who’s at fault or who’s right but simply about solving or clarifying the issue. And usually, this is exactly what both parties are very interested in.

In a situation loaded with conflict and difficult feelings, the most important „I-message“ is: „I’m very interested in a good collaboration / communication / relationship, so what can I do to improve the situation?“

An honest personal discussion, where I own up to my insecurity is much more effective than any kind blaming, shaming, finger-pointing or looking for other people’s faults.

So when going into a difficult situation or discussion remember the following key recommendations:

  • Be yourself, communicate with clear and open I-messages. Describe your impressions without assuming that the other person feels the way you do.
  •  Ask your counterpart what you can do to improve the relationship.
  • If it’s about interpersonal relationships, openness is the key to trust and honest communication.
  • Based on trust, conflicts can be solved and constructive ideas for a future collaboration can be developed.

Those who approach others with openness and clarity will in most cases be met with open ears (and hearts). This is the basis for building trust, which is the essential prerequisite for any successful collaboration.

From her many team building processes conducted over the last 10 years, Stefanie Voss concludes: “Once we seriously understand that our own feelings and opinions are just that – our own, and not necessarily need to be seen, understood or accepted by someone else, then we are truly open-minded. I have my opinion and view, you have yours, and both is okay. Only then, there’s a chance to find a common ground to move ahead.”