At a meeting for CHC’s cell group and ministry leaders, Robi Sonderegger presented a few practical steps on how to work with difficult people.
By Peter Hua
How do we deal with people?
As much as we want to run away and hide when we come across difficult people, the reality is we often need to work with them—sometimes, very closely. What do we do when we see the need to address a sensitive issue? Or deal with people who are deemed “impossible”? What if walking up to people we don’t know and striking up a conversation is the social equivalent of skydiving for us?
That was the question discussed by clinical psychologist Robi Sonderegger during a meeting with the leaders of City Harvest Church on their weekly Tuesday evening meeting on Feb. 7.
“Rules before relationship results in resentment and rebellion,” Sonderegger advised. “When we want to address an issue, we need to first build a relationship with the other party, gain their respect and then the job will be made easy.”
The doctor then went on to present a set of seemingly simple techniques that, in fact, gave profound insights to linguistic skills that enhance relationships. Excited “oohs”, “aahs” and lots of laughter filled the hall as the congregation followed Sonderegger’s trail to understanding human emotional response.
Practical Steps To Winning People
Step 1: Use the person’s name
“Your name is so powerful, you could still hear it in a loud room even when it’s far away,” said Sonderegger. “If you repeat their name at least three times during the first conversation, they will like you instantly without even knowing why.”
Step 2: Ask open-ended questions
Asking questions is a basic way of gathering information. Open-ended questions allow respondents to give information according to their own understanding of the subject, adding in personal feelings and attitudes toward that particular subject. This allows the person who is asking the question to better identify the respondent’s passion and access their true feelings on an issue. Now that you have asked, be on your ears.
Step 3: Paraphrase their answer
That’s right. Summarize it and repeat back their statement. Sonderegger humorously denoted that the word paraphrase was derived from the words parrot and phrase. “Parrots never respond to your questions, do they?” asked Sonderegger to a laughing crowd. “They simply repeat what you say.”
It may seem like a parrot job, but by summing up people’s statements, you are showing interest in them.
Step 4: Focus on their passion
It usually takes three questions and paraphrasing of answers to identify the one thing that gets the respondent all excited—that one thing is their passion. It may not be an easy task, so look for non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and posture to get the full picture of what the speaker is telling you.
Step 5: Conclude
The best time to wrap up the conversation is when the respondent is all excited talking about his passion. “This would leave them wanting for more, because they are on their favorite topic—themselves!” Sonderegger quipped.
Following these five steps gives us a good start when we meet people, but there is much to work on if what we have is their cooperation. Sonderegger gave the congregation this word of advice: “The way is to encourage them to suggest the way we want to go!”
To show how to achieve that, he outlined three simple steps.
1. Find out why they feel their way is better.
By asking why they feel their way is better; you bring the focus to the respondent’s feelings. “No argument is about the problem, it is always about the emotion behind the problem,” said Sonderegger. “If we can identify that emotion, we will almost always win the argument.”
2. Paraphrase their answer
When we listen to the respondent’s reply, our natural reaction is always to retaliate and that is how the argument becomes heated. By repeating their answer, you clarify unclear information and, at the same time, allow them to hear what they just said.
3. Come up with a solution that creates a win-win situation.
“Never offer the first solution,” the doctor said, underlining the word “never” three times. “This I learned from the Asian culture of bargaining.” He told of how once, while shopping in Thailand, he made the mistake of making the first offer for an item. The moment he did it, the item was as good as sold because the shop-owner could negotiate to his advantage. That is why you should allow the other party to make a suggestion and from there, find a solution that benefits both parties.
Wrapping up the session, Sonderegger gave the ultimate tip for dealing with difficult people: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” (James 1:19)
“While this may sound like manipulation, we are actually following what the bible says to be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath,” said Sonderegger.
For other reports of Dr Robi Sonderegger’s sessions at City Harvest Church, go to: