FOUR STEPS TO COPE WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE
How much time do you spend coping
with 'difficult people'? How do
you identify a truly 'difficult person'?
And more importantly, what can you do about it?
We can all think of times when a
co-worker turns grumpy and uncommunicative, your boss blows his stack over a
minor mistake, or subordinates have constant excuses for why work is delayed.
These are not usually 'difficult people' but are instead the result
of a situation temporarily bringing out the worst in them.
Truly 'difficult people' show
chronic behaviour issues.
To identify the truly 'difficult
(if you answer 'yes' to
any of these, then chances are you are not dealing with a 'difficult
person'. If your answers are
all 'no', then chances are you do have a 'difficult person' on
- Has the person in question usually acted
differently in three similar situations?
- Am I reacting out of proportion to what the
- Was there a particular incident that triggered
the troublesome behaviour?
- Will direct, open discussion relieve the
So how do you deal with that truly
'difficult person'? Richard
Bramson (Coping with Difficult People...in Business and in Life) has suggested
The first step is to stop
wishing they were different. This
is far easier said than done. We
often think it is up to them to change, wish for them to change, and feel
frustrated when they don't. But
wishing they were different is an exercise in futility.
So the first step is to give up that magic wish!
Blaming people for being difficult won't change them.
But giving up the energy you use in wishing they would change will help
The second step is to get some
distance between you and the difficult behaviour. We often get so wrapped up in situations, feeling angry at
them, feeling upset at ourselves, that we are unable to respond effectively.
Your goal in this step is to have a detached and distanced view of that
Difficult Person while they're in the process of being difficult. Just like
looking through a telescope. Sometimes
being able to label the behaviour helps. Bramson describes seven types of
Human beings are immensely complex and no-one can be
reduced to just one label. However,
if categorising helps you to get some distance and see the behaviour is not just
how they relate to you but is how they relate to many people, it can give you
some perspective and breathing space. Then
you can try and imagine what life looks like to that person - how do they view
the world? When you can make some
sense out of their behaviour you feel less confused, more able to cope and more
able to move to Step three.
Hostile-aggressives: those who bully and throw tantrums to get their way.
Complainers: those who gripe incessantly but do nothing to change things.
Super-Agreeables: those who are supportive and agreeable but fail to
Silent and Unresponsives: those who respond to every question with yep,
no, or a grunt.
Negativists: those who deflate any optimism you have.
Know-It-All Experts: those who know everything about anything worth
knowing and their goal is to make you feel worthless.
Indecisives: those who stall major decisions until they are made for
them, often causing loss of jobs and opportunities.
Step three is changing the
nature of the interaction you are involved in. You need to see how to change your own behaviour to
modify the interaction and the outcome. For
example, 'super-agreeables' are those people who promise you anything
because they want to keep you happy.
Reality can be distorted. They
can over-promise and under-deliver. They
want to be liked and this means never saying 'no' or giving a candid
response. If you insist on honesty
it will drive them into a panic and result in more of the same
'over-promising' behaviours. Instead,
it's better to change the situation to make it easier for the truth to emerge.
This means making honesty non-threatening and subtly reassuring them that
they are still liked.
The final step is implementing
and monitoring your strategy. Thinking
about when you do it, selecting the right time (for them and you) realising how
much energy you have to put into it (it's likely to take more than one go to
get this right), practicing how you would handle it (anticipating the responses
which can sometimes be very uncomfortable) and then finally monitoring the
impact and modifying.
It's also possible that no matter what you do
your attempts at coping will fail to produce the results you want.
If your attempts at coping don't work then maybe it's time to
literally get as much distance from the 'Difficult Person' as possible.
No-one is under a moral obligation to keep working with another person
whose behaviour is demoralising, severely upsetting or stress-producing.
On the other hand, there are some situations you know you are unable to
walk away from and learning how to cope with (not manage) difficult people may
be both useful and necessary.
You are welcome to click here to forward this article to a colleague who may find it useful, Thanks, Susan