difficult people

6 Attitudes for Dealing with Difficult People

If you work in a typical organization, you’ve probably got more difficult people floating around than you would like.    Such as the boss who shoots down every suggestion you make.  Or the coworker who quickly dampens the enthusiasm of a new employee by saying, “Wait until you’ve been here for a while and you’ll see how bad things really are.”

If your family is even somewhat normal, you’ve got a few difficult family members as well.  Such as the aunt who’s always got a thousand suggestions as to how you should live your life or what decisions you should make.  And you feel like shouting back, “Would you please just shut up and let me live my own life?”

Well, there are a number of distinguishing characteristics of difficult people, but in essence they have one or more of the five C’s in their behavior.  They’re:

  • Cheap,
  • Crabby,
  • Critical,
  • Complaining, or
  • Cruel.

But I have some great news for you today.  You can adopt six attitudes that will give you the upper hand in dealing with difficult people.  Learn these six attitudes and you will be super empowered.

It’s a small part of what I will be teaching at my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program coming to Chicago, IL on November 10-11, 2016.   And I still have a few of the $500 Early-Bird Registration Discounts available.

If you adopt any one of these six attitudes, you will be much better equipped for dealing with difficult people.  Adopt all six attitudes and you will become empowered to deal with just about anyone at any time.

Sue Reinhart, an Estimating Team Lead at the largest auto insurance company in the U.S. says:

“Even though I attended your Journey program a couple of years ago, I wanted to thank you for recently sending the 5 videos you produced that give a great overview of the 12 secrets taught in the Journey.  I so enjoyed them and they helped to reinforce all the things I learned.  Now it’s my goal to bring all my kids to your Journey.”

(PS:  If you missed out on getting these five free, no-obligation videos that overview the Journey, I would be glad to send them to you.  Click here to get your videos.)

Sue went on to say, “As a result of attending your Journey, I know I’ve changed a lot.  My attitude and outlook are so much more positive and my approach to handling difficult situations has gotten much better.  Thanks for being a positive influence on my life.”


1. Adopt a GRACIOUS Attitude with Difficult People.

Are you gracious enough to admit that you don’t know everything?  That you seldom, if ever, know the whole story?

The reason is simple.  You’ve got some filters in your head.  And those filters only allow you to see certain things.

That’s why four people can witness the same car accident and report very different things. And that’s why the four major TV networks can report on the same event, but they all see it quite differently.

Right now, our country is hugely divided.  Perhaps more so than any time in recent memory.  And people find themselves with difficult people, in hotheaded arguments, almost instantly … because they do not have a GRACIOUS attitude.

For example, if you’re a liberal Democrat, you’re much more likely to accept what another liberal Democrat says. And you’d question whatever a conservative Republican says. You would be able to see all the benefits of the Democratic approach and you could probably list all the things wrong with the Republican’s plan.

Of course, the reverse analogy is just as true.  It’s your filters getting in the way of your seeing the whole truth.

To outsmart your filters, to avoid the ignorance it brings, when you come in contact with a difficult person, remind yourself that you don’t have all the facts.  And be GRACIOUS enough to hear the other person out.

As I teach in my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program, “Avoid evaluation until comprehension is complete.”  It will keep you out of a slew of trouble.


2. Protect Yourself with a NON-DEFENSIVE Attitude.

Most people, maybe even 90% of the people out there will do their best to please you.

But the other 10% have got some messed-up wiring.  They get their kicks out of making you squirm with their difficult behavior.  Well, don’t give them the satisfaction of letting them see you sweat, fidget, fumble, stumble, and stutter.

Now I know some of you can get sucked into the difficult person’s crazy games and want to give them a piece of your mind.  It seems like the natural thing to do.  To defend yourself.

Just don’t do it at that moment.

Certainly, there is a time to defend yourself.  To stand up for yourself.  But it doesn’t work when the other person is in the midst of his crazy making.  He is trying to hurt you or get to you and he is not ready to reason with you.

The way I put on a NON-DEFENSIVE attitude is to imagine my whole body is covered in a nonstick coating.  When the other person does or says something that is really inappropriate, I simply imagine the comment as falling away.  Nothing sticks.  No response is needed.  And more often than not, my lack of response or defensiveness stops the difficult person right in his tracks.


3. Use an EDUCATION Attitude.

When I was speaking at one of many IBM conferences, a Vice-President pulled me aside to share this technique with me.  I found it to be powerfully effective.

He told me he used to get very upset with certain types of people and their behavior. Then one day, it dawned on him,

“Those people are there to teach me something. Those people were put in my path to teach me a lesson. The team member who constantly objects to any and all change, for example, may be there to remind me that my plans will hurt some people. I have to consider people, not just processes.”

I would challenge you to select one or two people that you see as difficult. Then each time you interact with them in the next two weeks, or every time they tick you off, choose the EDUCATION attitude. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this individual?”


4. Deploy an ENTERTAINMENT Attitude.

Peter Walshaw, General Manager of the Hyatt Kings Gate Hotel in Auckland, New Zealand says it beautifully. He says, 99% of the people we have to deal with are pretty good. Reasonable demands, Reasonable work, Reasonable to get along with. But it’s the one percent that drives us crazy.”

Most of us would probably say the same thing about our work situation. However, the secret lies in Walshaw’s next comment. He says, “Treat that one percent like they are there to entertain us!”

How wonderful! Instead of getting upset with a difficult person, look at it as entertainment. When a difficult person comes to you with an unreasonable demand, lighten up. Look at it as show time. Tell yourself, “The curtain’s going up. I wonder what it will be this time.” Look at the other person’s quirks, foibles, and abuses as amusing rather than agitating.


5. Bask in a CALM Attitude.

Stay cool.

Don’t get trapped. And you know you’re trapped when you get so angry you can’t do your job. The dysfunctional team member is controlling you at that point.

If you accidentally let a difficult person takes control of you, retake control by doing something that will make you CALM.  Play racquetball or do something fun or athletic to let off steam. Think things through. Tell yourself, “I can handle it.” Whatever you do, come back to your team calm, refreshed, ready to focus on other people and other things.

You can also bask in a CALM attitude if you learn how to ask difficult people for new, more constructive behavior.  It’s one of the things I teach at my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program.

Take Gail Wescott, for example.  She’s a senior Social Worker for Hennepin County Social Services.   As she said, “I learned how to ask for what I want so others say ‘yes’ and follow-through.  I learned exactly what to do when I’m involved in negative, difficult, or challenging interactions with others.”

(PS:  My next Journey will be in Chicago, IL on November 10-11, 2016.  The Early-Bird Registration Discount of $500 is still available.  Click here to register.)

Simply decide, the difficult team member may give himself a headache, but he is not going to give you one.


6.  Maintain an OPEN-MINDED Attitude

When you see difficult behavior, it’s natural to think you’re right and the other person is wrong. That sets up an adversarial relationship.

You will be better off if you adopt an OPEN-MINDED attitude.

The secret lies in self-talk. Tell yourself: “Slow down. Wait a moment. Don’t react too quickly. Find out what the person really means. Hear him out. Remember, he sees things differently. So keep an open mind.”

The OPEN-MINDED attitude is especially important if you’re a team leader. People have a natural tendency to resist leaders. On the one hand, team members want a dynamic leader who will inspire them, but they’re also a little hostile towards anyone who has power over them. People are contradictory. So whenever your idea is shot down or a team resists your leadership, remember, it may be no more than a natural instinct to rebel against authority.

If you’re a team leader, you might also remind yourself that you’re paid to handle difficult team members. That’s a part of your job. And that’s why you’re given a higher position and more authority.

Author Robert Updegraff says it this way: “A leader should be grateful every hour of every day for the troubles of his job. They pay at least half his wages and salary. For if there were no troubles it would be easy to get someone to do his work for half, or even a third, of the pay he is getting. If he wants a bigger job, with a bigger income, he has to look for more troubles and learn how to like them.”

No matter how great your team might be or might become, there will always be some dysfunctional behavior displayed by some of the team members. People are people. No one is perfect. Rather than bemoan the fact you’ve got some difficult people around you, cope with it by adopting one of the six attitudes listed above.

Final Thought:  It is easy to see through people who make spectacles of themselves.


difficult people

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