When dealing with difficult people, some strategies include maintaining self control, choosing battles carefully, avoiding being reactive and instead focusing on being proactive, and separating the person from the issue at hand. While turning to defense mode can be reflexive, it is helpful to equalize the power in the conversation, use humor to diffuse tension with an unreasonable person, and leverage the flow of communication.
When interacting with challenging people, keep a level head. Maintaining composure allows you to react rationally so that you can minimize, as opposed to escalate, a problem. Take some deep breaths, and count to 10 before responding. If the tension remains high after 10 seconds, take a time out, if possible, and revisit the issue when emotions calm down.
Expend energy on resolving issues rather than igniting them. Try to perceive the concerns through the other person's view, including avoiding taking their behaviors as a personal affront. Often, people's actions are because of them, not because of someone else. Use empathetic statements not to justify poor behavior, but to keep in mind that people behave according to their own issues.
Separate the person from the issue; tackle the issue with firmness and the person with kindness. Doing so conveys effective problem-solving skills while ensuring that a person is more open to what is said.