The Art of Dealing With Difficult People

By ‘difficult’ people we mean people with certain personality traits or emotional
characteristics that make it difficult for you to communicate with them. The ability
to effectively cope with such people while maintaining a healthy work environment
is known as the skill of dealing with difficult people.

It is inevitable for you to come across a difficult person in your life that bring about
distress, whether it’s in the form of a neighbor, relative, colleague, employee,
customer, or supplier. However, the intensity of their difficulty may vary depending
upon the kind of difficult person they are; downers, better than(s), passives, or
tanks.
We’ve all been there. Be it work, school or Thanksgiving dinner, we’ve all found
ourselves in situations where we have been forced to interact with people we find
to be “difficult”. For many of us, we’d rather eat glass than have to deal with
challenging people like this but how we survive and, dare I say thrive, in these
situations can separate us from the pack in both business and in life.

Why Is Dealing with Difficult People Important
Whenever we are faced with unreasonably difficult people, our instinct is to react
with frustration and irritation. That, however, is the ticket to destruction. It causes
tension to build in the work environment and can prove a serious threat to the
productivity as well as the overall stability of the work environment.
Therefore, it is important to develop the skills of dealing with difficult people not
only for the sake of your satisfaction but because your long term as well as short
term success depends to a great extent on your ability to smoothly and successfully
interact with such people. To increase the likelihood of your success in life and
career, you must be savvy in dealing with such difficult behaviors.
How to Improve Your Skills of Dealing with Difficult People?
Since it is difficult to avoid crossing paths with difficult people, the best option is to
improve your skills of dealing with difficult people in the following way:

  1. Identify the nature of difficulty. Analyze the specific behavior causing
    distress and identify the kind of difficult person you need to deal with. For
    example, is he a ‘downer’ who is always complaining and criticizing, a
    ‘passive’ who never contributes anything, a ‘better than’ who believes he
    knows everything, or just a bossy ‘tank’. Moreover, you must also analyze
    whether or not the behavior is consistent because sometimes it is possible
    that the person is just having a bad day.
  2. Understand them instead of trying to change them. Mostly when we come
    across someone with a difficult behavior, we tend to advise them to change
    themselves. For instance, we may try to encourage a ‘passive’ to stand up for
    himself or a ‘downer’ to be more positive in his thinking. This, however, only
    causes them to resent us. The best way is to try to understand them, their
    7
    The Art of Dealing with Difficult People
    Discover How to Identify Different Types of Difficult People and 10 Keys to Handling Them with Ease and Grace
    values, and whatever it is that drives their decisions. This not only helps them
    relax but also encourages them to be more open-minded.
    Identifying Difficult People
    Difficult people can take many forms. “Difficulty” can manifest itself in quite a few
    ways, oftentimes, including people who spread rumors, who find the negative in
    everything, those who rarely cooperate, or who don’t value the input and opinions
    of others. They may find every opportunity to create problems or they may simply
    use passive resistance to waylay your best efforts to move your agenda forward.
    At the end of the day, defining “difficult” is a uniquely personal thing. What is
    challenging to me may be a breeze for you. Understanding your personality,
    preferences, and triggers can help you to recognize the types of people and
    situations that irritate you.
    Several types of difficult people and how their behaviors serve to irritate others like
    a course grade of sandpaper:
    ▪ Perfectionists: If you are looking for quick results, perfectionists can be a
    source of frustration.
    ▪ Control Freaks: When you want to do things your way, overly controlling
    types can be a source of irritation as well.
    ▪ Creative People: They’re essential if generating ideas is the plan but can
    cause frustration when you just want to get to deliver a simple result.
    8
    The Art of Dealing with Difficult People
    Discover How to Identify Different Types of Difficult People and 10 Keys to Handling Them with Ease and Grace
    ▪ Shapers: Although shapers may seek to take over as and when they see fit,
    they can really help drive action.
    ▪ Aggressive or Defensive People: Assertion can help move a group forward.
    Aggression or defensiveness can have the opposite effect on a group’s
    dynamic.
    ▪ Submissive People: The lack of confidence and fear of failure that many
    submissive types display can be a source of frustration as well.
    Identifying the Issue
    Turning the situation inward and analyzing your triggers and reactions to these
    situations can help you to be prepared and self-aware when they arise. Elizabeth
    B. Brown shares several questions that you may want to reflect on in order to help
    you understand the root issue of why that person at work or in life is making you
    insane:
    ▪ What emotional tornadoes does the difficult person in your life spin off?
    ▪ How do you react to a difficult person in your life?
    ▪ How does your difficult person react to your reactions?
    ▪ If the other person is the problem, are you growing unhealthy actions and
    reactions in response to him or her?
    ▪ Are you the difficult person driving others to reactive behavior?
    ▪ How do others react to your actions and responses?

Feeding into our frustrations when dealing with a difficult person can become a
vicious cycle. We tend to see or hear an interaction and then interpret that action
based, not on fact, but on our assumptions. Then we react. Unfortunately, we
usually don’t have all of the information as to why an individual may be showing up
the way they are and, in the absence of factual information, we tend to fill in the
blanks with our own theories about what might be going on.

The Art of Dealing with Difficult People
Discover How to Identify Different Types of Difficult People and 10 Keys to Handling Them with Ease and Grace
Managing Your Reactions
It is all about breathing. Slow, deep breathing actually triggers something at the
bottom of your spine called the Vegus nerve, which sends neurotransmitters to
brain that actually calm you down.
Then, take a moment to reflect on how you feel. Ask yourself questions about how
you can respond to difficult person, or how you can create a good outcome from
the situation. While this seems like overkill, this is an essential step to getting your
brain out of its instinctual response (things like sharpness, negativity, and
defensiveness). Forcing yourself to think of ways to create a good outcome makes
your brain go into a more positive mode of thinking.

Leveraging Some Self-Control
Know yourself. Having a clear sense of self, what causes you tension and where
your limits are can serve you well when interacting with people that you find to be
difficult. Staying calm and developing your awareness and emotional intelligence
skills can help you to manage your reactions to frustrating situations.
Seek to understand the situation. Gaining some clarity by asking questions while
managing your own reactions can serve to help find a mutually satisfactory
outcome. Reflecting on what you would determine as a satisfactory outcome
before getting into an interaction with a difficult person can help you maintain
focus on what really matters.
Stick to the facts and acknowledge emotions. Using examples and stating facts as
opposed to interpretations can help keep interactions with people you find difficult
in check. Paraphrasing and checking for accurate understanding can also show that
you hear what people are saying and that you are doing your level best to work
effectively with them. Responding and stating your emotions or the impact that the
person is having on you based on their behavior, if delivered correctly, can
sometimes be the nudge that someone needs to realize that they are rubbing you
the wrong way.
Seek the advice of others. You’re not alone in this. You are not the only person who
has ever had to productively interact with a difficult person. Seeking out the advice
of others or finding someone to help coach you through it can be quite beneficial.
Sometimes, talking it out can help you reframe the situation to a place where you
can facilitate a more positive outcome.
Keep records, if necessary. Sometimes, things can be so abrasive that you run the
risk of hitting an end-state that you never intended. If things are to the point where
interactions are toxic, it may be time to start making intentional effort to begin
documenting things. If things go south, at least you have a good record of what led
to that place.

  1. Critics
    Certainly, there is a time and place for criticism. In fact, the best ideas and the most
    effective solutions often come from debate. All points of view are challenged. But
    difficult critics, destructive critics aren’t looking for answers. They aren’t involved
    in the give and take that leads to consensus and team building. They’re just critics.
    Or as I like to say, “Critics are spectators, not players.”
    I’m sure you’ve noticed. The people who won’t lift a finger to help are often the
    first ones to point one. Or as one disgusted husband replied when he was asked
    whether his wife drove, he said, “Only in an advisory capacity.” So yes, critics are
    non-cooperative. And their negative behavior makes it difficult for us to even want
    to cooperate with them.
  1. Liars
    As Kim Hubbard says, “Honesty pays but it doesn’t seem to pay enough for most
    people.” That’s sad, but she’s probably right. Anything less than honesty makes
    cooperation, teamwork, and relationships difficult to build. And cooperation,
    teamwork, and relationships are built on trust, and trust is ALWAYS built on truth.
    Of course, lies come in many forms. It might be the lies that are told to impress a
    prospective customer or the lies that are told to keep a spouse from getting upset.
    Or they may be the lies that are used in job hunting. As one recruiter told me, “The
    closet most people come to perfection is when they fill out a job application.” Or
    as a former Prime Minister of Great Britain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies,
    darned (I can’t say the real word) lies, and statistics.”
    However liars lie, they are difficult to deal with. They’re like Jason and Melinda out
    shopping for living room furniture. They found a set they liked but told the
    salesperson they couldn’t afford it. The sales person replied, “That’s no problem.
    You make one payment, and you don’t make another payment for a year.” Melinda
    asked, “Who told you about us?”
    The most unfortunate thing about lying is that it’s seldom necessary. And the truth
    — no matter how distasteful — would probably be easier for others to accept than
    the lies used to cover it up. As La Rochefoucauld said so wisely, “Almost all our
    faults are more pardonable than the methods we think up to hide them.”

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