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The Art of Dealing with Challenging Association Members

“I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.” – unknown.

You can’t change people, but you can change the way you deal with them. Use some of the techniques featured in GrowthZone’s The Art of Dealing with Difficult People, to handle whatever is thrown your way.

Uncomfortable situations with difficult co-workers, members, and board members are part of day-to-day challenges for association professionals.

Focus on using your Emotional Intelligence (the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically) to stay in control in the most trying of situations.

BE A GOOD LISTENER
Everyone wants to be treated with respect. It’s important that people feel they are being heard and their thoughts and feelings are being acknowledged. Focus on the person and resist the urge to interrupt.

KEEP YOUR COMPOSURE
Losing your temper won’t get you anywhere. Regardless of how you’re being spoken to, keep your responses respectful and use a calm tone of voice. Don’t add fuel to the fire by arguing or being defensive. By allowing the other person to vent and while keeping your cool, the other person will likely be more open to what you have to say.

SAVE JUDGMENT
It’s impossible to know what other people are going through. Try putting yourself in their shoes and avoid judging them based on their reaction/behavior to the situation. Separate the person from the issue.

UNDERSTAND THE TRUE MOTIVE
Is there an underlying need that’s not immediately apparent? By identifying what the person is actually trying to gain or avoid, you will be one step closer to resolving the situation.
Keep an eye out for the rest of the series, so you’re ready to handle whatever gets thrown your way.

AVOID PERSONALIZING
Chances are that whatever the person’s issue is, their reaction likely doesn’t have to do with you on a personal level. Depersonalize to maintain objectivity and control your emotions.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO APOLOGIZE
Offering an apology and a willingness to work to fix the situation can go miles toward moving in the right direction. An apology can be empathetic vs. taking ownership: “I’m sorry you have to deal with this” recognizes the person’s feelings but doesn’t require you to take the blame.

EXPLAIN YOUR POSITION
If an interaction reaches a point where the other person is willing to listen, explain your actions. There may be background information that they were not privy to that will help them understand why you’ve done what you’ve done and what your intentions are.

WORSE COMES TO WORST
Avoid conflict by distancing yourself from the person physically and/or emotionally. If you’ve given it your best shot and a negative interaction is spiraling out of control, consider asking the person not to speak to you in that manner or, if necessary, simply walk away. If worse comes to worse, simply ignore them unless interaction is critical.

REMAIN CONFIDENTIAL
Avoid confrontations in front of others and resist the urge to complain to others about your issues with the difficult person. Doing so will reduce potential awkwardness when things get back on track.

KEEP MOVING FORWARD
Focus on what can be done to fix the problem instead of dwelling on what has happened so far. Also, take time to think about how you can deal with the person next time the situation arises.

BUILD A RELATIONSHIP
Work to establish a stronger rapport with the person over the long run. With the amount of electronic communication today, the human touch can be lost.

KEEP AT IT
Over time, you’ll recognize the person’s triggers, which will allow you to proactively defuse the situation.

STAY FLEXIBLE
Different people have different triggers and responses to those triggers. Staying adaptable will help you save energy and avoid stress.

KNOW WHEN TO ESCALATE
As a last resort, approach your manager about the situation. Be prepared to list the techniques you’ve tried in an effort to defuse the situation. And stress the fact that this is not the way you wanted to handle it, but you’ve got nothing else to try.

VALIDATE YOUR EMOTIONS
It’s healthy to talk to someone confidentially about what you’re feeling after dealing with a difficult person. Going for a walk or taking time to connect with a friend or loved one can help defuse some of your frustration. Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it.

PICK YOUR BATTLES
Not every difference in opinion needs to turn into a confrontation. Ask yourself if the situation is truly worth pursuing.

You’re more in control than you think. You can’t change people. But you can change the way you deal with situations that involve difficult people. Keep these tips in mind. Use the techniques that work for you and you’ll find yourself ready to handle whatever is thrown your way.


Amy Gitchell is a Marketing Specialist at GrowthZone, providers of the first association management software with fully-integrated sales funnel management. Visit growthzone.com to learn more about project management tools for associations.

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