Last month, we started to discuss some strategies for dealing with the truly challenging people you sometimes find as potential clients–or on your own staff, which is a challenge of its own. Here’s one more type of “difficult prospect” and some suggestions on diffusing their wrath before there’s more collateral damage.

The Sniper
Snipers are the sort who talk about you behind your back. They make little jokes or quip about your weaknesses. Since they shoot from the cover of innocent humor, others don’t see the viciousness of their hostility, so they often get away with embarrassing comments without any fear of reprisal. They are the most passive-aggressive among the difficult since they don’t confront you directly. This person may again be a difficult prospect or employee or even a competitor.

How to cope: It can help if you…

1. Avoid responding to comments made anonymously. Ignore snipers who attack you in front of others, who often use wit as a typical camouflage. But if they make sniping comments in your presence, show some self-deprecating humor. It is tough for them to gain support from others if you are the one showing humility.

2. But if they persist, get them alone and ask if their comments are more than just a poor ability to be funny at your expense. Don’t attack them in front of groups. Ask if their nasty comments were meant as a dig. They’re very likely to say, “What’s the matter? Can’t you take a little joke?”

Your response to this should be, “Sure I can take a joke. But I sensed a little animosity behind your comments. Is that how you meant to say it?” If they say yes, you have a chance to discover what the real irritation is behind the comment. I know if my wife snipes at me, it is time to go out to dinner and talk. Or clean the kitchen for a couple of weeks.

Handling a problem person takes a lot of skill but, most importantly, courage. If you are firm and assertive and use the outlined techniques, you may not be able to avoid problem people, but you’ll be sure to defuse them rather than fighting or withdrawing.