The Four-Step Process

01.06.2018 |

Episode #7 of the course Handling difficult people by Chris Croft


Welcome back! Today, we’re looking at useful words to use in difficult situations.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic four-step process that told you what to say in any difficult situation? The good news is that there is! You can use this process for disagreeing, saying no, telling someone that their behavior is annoying or upsetting you, or asking someone to do something they probably won’t want to do.


The Basic Steps

Here’s the process based on the example of asking your next-door neighbor to fix the fence because her dog keeps coming through to your backyard.

Step 1: “I understand”

“I know you’ve been busy recently and fixing the fence is a bit of a hassle, but …”

The purpose of step one is to start gently, making yourself seem reasonable by showing that you understand their problem, and to take away their excuses. In my example, they now can’t say, “I don’t have time,” because I’ve already covered that. If you miss out on step one, they will probably say, “But you don’t understand …”

Step 2: “I feel”

“But your dog has been coming through, and although I love him, this is ruining my enjoyment of my backyard because I have to look out for bits of poo all the time now.”

The purpose of step two is to add power to your (step three) demand because they can’t say, “That’s unreasonable,” because maybe it is, but it’s how you feel and nobody can change that. So now, if they say no, they are effectively saying, “I don’t care how you feel,” which would be a declaration of war. They are unlikely to say that. If you just go straight to step three, the process has no power and it’s easy for them to say no.

Step 3: “I want”

“So, it would be great if you could fix those holes in the fence reasonably soon.”

Step three is where you say what you want. If you miss this out, then step two is just complaining—step three makes it constructive. Even if the required action is pretty obvious, you must do step three.

Step 4: “Is that OK?”

“Would you be able to do that for me?”

Step four is where you get the person to commit—or to say that they are NOT prepared to do what you want. If you walk away after step three, they’ll be saying, “Well, they aren’t happy!”, but you don’t know if they are going to do anything (they probably aren’t). Step four is where you nail them down to a commitment.


What Can Go Wrong

Now, apart from a, “Yes, I’ll do it,” there are two things that might happen. First, what if they say, “Yes,” but then don’t do it? The answer is that you can come back with a similar process, saying, “You probably had a busy week, but do you remember that you said you’d sort out the fence—are you going to get around to it soon?” After all, they did make the promise, so they really should do it.

The other thing that might happen is that they say no. After a good step two, this is unlikely, but what if, in my example, they say, “I’m sorry it’s upsetting you, but repairing the fence will cost me money, and I just don’t have any to spare at the moment.” Well, you can either accept their situation, agree to a compromise (Share the cost? Do a cheap temporary repair? Wait till they have money again?), or you can push for what you want by going around again, just jacking up the language slightly:

1. I really do understand …

2. But I feel quite strongly about …

3. And all I want is for you to …

4. Surely you could do that for me?

So, that’s the amazing four-step process!

Homework: Try the four-step process on a real situation. Did everything go as you expected? If no, what went wrong?

I’ll see you tomorrow for Lesson 8 when we’ll be looking at Game Players!



Recommended book

Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People: Over 325 Ready-to-Use Words and Phrases for Working with Challenging Personalities by Renèe Evenson


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