Difficult People

6 Do’s (and 4 Don’ts) for Difficult People

As much as you would like it otherwise, your world is bound to have its fair share of difficult people. More specifically, those I like to call C-people.

And no, I don’t mean C-level people, like CHIEF Executive Officers or CHIEF Operations Officers.

I’m talking about difficult people that have one or more of the five C characteristics.  They’re Cheap, Crabby, Critical, Complaining, or Cruel.  These difficult people make your life and your work quite unpleasant, if not a living hell, if you don’t know how to deal with them.

Unfortunately, most people’s education and training when it comes to conflict, conflict resolution, and difficult people amounts to a great big zero.

So they try to ignore it or joke about it, neither of which resolves anything.

The comedian W.C. Fields, when asked about conflict, said, “Thou shalt not kill anything less than a fifth.”

Stand-up comic George Carlin said, “If you can’t beat them, arrange to have them beaten.”

And English musician and actor Jeremy Limb noted, “The world is a dangerous place; only yesterday I went into a store and punched someone in the face.”

When they said those comments, they might have been funny.  But in the light of our recent daily news of shootings, bombings, riots and a host of other violent events, it’s hard to see much humor in comments like that.

It’s time we learn HOW to deal with difficult people and difficult situations.  Our very survival may depend on it.

Here are six Do’s and 4 Don’ts that will move all of us in that direction.  We’ll start with what you shouldn’t do when dealing with difficult people.


Don’t #1: Don’t automatically assume you’re right and the other person is wrong.

The old slogan still holds true.  If you automatically assume you’re right and the other person is wrong, more often than not, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

I’ll never forget the time I walked into my daughter’s bedroom to see her crayon marks all over the floor.  I was ticked and immediately shared some rather unkind remarks and put her in time out.  When I cooled down and asked her why she made that mess, with tearful eyes and a choking voice, she said, “Daddy, I was trying to draw you a picture to let you how much I love you.”

I had fallen into the despicable trap of automatically assuming I understood the situation, assumed I was right, and dished out the consequences.  And I damaged our relationship as a result … at least for a little while.

Do you ever do that?

  • Do you instantly assume your colleague’s remark was out of line at the staff meeting?
  • That your boss was a jerk for correcting your tardiness?
  • That your partner is much too selfish?
  • And a thousand other assumptions?

Probably yes.

If so, be careful.  When you automatically think you’re right, you tend to focus your energy on getting even or getting the other person to admit he/she was wrong.  And that approach seldom works, especially not with difficult people.  All your energy gets focused on who’s right and who’s wrong … instead of what you’re going to do resolve the situation.

By the same token, on the reverse…


Don’t #2: Don’t automatically assume you’re messed up and can’t change.

If your self-esteem is weak, you can easily jump to the conclusion that everything’s your fault when conflict arises with difficult people.

That’s why I start my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program with a regimen that cements a person’s self-esteem into great shape.  Ian Robson from LloydsTSB Bank in London reported that. Ian writes,

“My life is fantastic, and I have really changed for the better since I attended your course. I have learned so much about myself and feel positive, energized and in control. You kick-started my journey to success in all aspects of my life and provided me with the knowledge and skills to be free of worry and anxiety while I continue to achieve more and more success. And your self-esteem building exercise is nothing short of fantastic.”

Not all people are as fortunate as Ian.  As he continued in his note to me, he told me how he used the Journey to help a colleague of his. In his words,

“A colleague came to me for some advice. She was extremely unhappy in her work and couldn’t seem to do anything right in her manager’s eyes.  So she had decided to take a down grade and give up her role as team leader. I could not believe it. This was a person who used to work for me a couple of years ago and she was fantastic, but she had since lost all confidence in her ability.”

“Your Journey program taught me that by changing your attitude you can achieve great things and I told my colleague about how your course had helped me.  In particular, I showed her how to stop her Mind Binders, reviewed my Journey workbook with her, and gave her a copy of your PIVOT book to read because I knew it would help her.”

“The next day my colleague came rushing up to me and said your PIVOT book was amazing.  She couldn’t put it down and read it from cover to cover, realizing it was her negative attitude that made her give up her job.  She had made a mistake handing in her notice and had decided to work on her self-esteem, improve her attitude, and then see her boss in hopes of getting her job back.”

It worked.  She got herself together … which is the same thing you have to do if you want to resolve conflicts more effectively.  Instead of assuming the other person is automatically at fault or you’re all screwed up, get off the blame game and get on with the work of being an effective, empowered, self-respecting communicator.

Later Ian’s colleague sent me a personal note from London.  Sharon said, “After a couple of meetings with my manager, he agreed to support me and I decided to remain as a team leader.”

But the story continued.  Sharon says,

“It has only been a month since I started using your Journey techniques that Ian passed on to me, but my colleagues have already commented on how different and confident I seem to be and how much we, as a team,  have achieved in a month compared to the whole of last year.  It even gave me the confidence to apply for a new job which is something that I haven’t done for 18 years. I have recommended your PIVOT book and Journey course to other people as the results for me have been amazing.”

You can pick up your copy of PIVOT on Amazon (with free Amazon Prime shipping) by clicking here.

And if you want to join my next Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program coming to Chicago, IL on November 10-11, 2016 and save $500 on your registration, just click here.


Don’t #3: Don’t ignore feelings.

Some people mistakenly think they can resolve their conflicts by simply sticking to the facts.  They might even chide one another, saying such things as, “Now don’t get all emotional on me.”

The truth is your feelings are always a part of the problem. They may even be the core of the problem. So they shouldn’t be ignored.

For example, you may have a lazy team member who is not pulling his weight. That’s a part of the problem. But you’re probably feeling resentful about it. That’s also a part of the problem.


Don’t #4: Don’t stuff your feelings … forever.

There are times you have to walk away from conversations with difficult people. You don’t have the time to confront your boss, coworker, or spouse every time they tick you off.

But if walking away is your response most of the time, you’re on the wrong track. Your feelings will fester. And in the long run, if you don’t raise important issues and have those difficult conversations, your feelings will come out some way or another, almost certainly in a way that will inflict more damage than if you had had a decent conversation.  Just make sure you do it correctly.

So what should you do when you’re faced with a difficult conversation?


Do #1: Know your purpose.

NASA would never shoot off a rocket before they decided the purpose of their mission. And you should never enter a difficult conversation without first considering what you hope to accomplish.

It’s not enough to think, “I just want to get something out in the open.” or “We just need to talk.”  Your purpose is too vague and in having conversations with difficult people, your results will be disappointing.

Your purpose needs to be specific and forward-looking. Maybe you want the other person to clearly understand your position. Maybe you want the other person to apologize. Or, maybe you want to work out some kind of compromise for the problem facing the two if you. You’ve got to know the result you’re seeking before you open your mouth.


Do #2: Ask more questions. Make fewer statements.

If you were to read the transcript of a difficult conversation that wasn’t going well, you’d notice one glaring imbalance. The two parties would be making lots of arguments, stating their points of view over and over again.

In fact, research indicates that would be a recipe for disaster. Ineffective conversations are 90% advocacy and 10% inquiry. In other words, the combatants talk too much and ask too little.

One of the first things you’ve got to do to get through a difficult conversation is to understand how the two of you see things differently. That requires lots of questions.


Do #3: Prepare for difficult reactions from difficult people.

When you bring up touchy topics (especially around difficult people), the other person may react in ways that are quite uncomfortable for you. The other person may cry, get angry, or withdraw. The other person might turn the tables and accuse you of being unfair. He may even reject you.

You’ve got to know which reactions are the toughest for you to deal with. And then plan out — in advance — how you will respond to those tears, outbursts, putdowns, or silent treatments.  Plan out the most positive, professional, and yet self-empowered reactions you could possibly give.

If you do that, your chances of moving the conversation in a healthy direction improve dramatically.  If, on the other hand, you simply wing it and don’t bother to prepare, then I suggest prayer.  You’ll need it.


Do #4: Cut yourself some slack.

Don’t expect to handle difficult people and every difficult conversation with ease, poise, and eloquence. At the beginning of the conversation, you may be tongue-tied, scared, and inarticulate.

That’s okay. Your goal is not eloquence. It’s openness and honesty. And like any other skill, you will get better with practice.


Do #5: Look for the “third side.”

You’ve always heard there are “two sides to every story.” That’s not true. Every story has three sides.

The third side is neither your story nor the other person’s story. Instead, it’s the story an impartial mediator would tell about what’s going on. It’s how he might describe the issues going on between the two of you.

Imagine that you and your coworker Joe are arguing over the handling of customer problems. You think Joe treats customers rather poorly. He is sometimes rude and impatient in his dealing with customers. And Joe thinks you let customers take advantage of you and the company. He thinks you’re a pushover.

If you begin the conversation from your side of the story, you might say, “Joe, we need to talk about the fact that you’re a jerk when it comes to customer service.” Joe is going to be defensive.

And if Joe starts by saying, “You’re a gullible fool, believing everything the customer tells you,” you’re going to be defensive. The two of you are stuck.

So how should you begin? Begin with the third side of the story. It might sound something like this, “It’s obvious we both care about our jobs. And we both want to do what we think is best. But you and I have different approaches to customer service. Let’s see if we can talk about that and agree on some guidelines we could both live with.”

No one will feel attacked. And you’ll be off to a better, smoother start.


Do #6: Re-frame negative comments.

In the midst of a difficult conversation, it’s easy for you and the other person to say things that could totally destroy any progress you’re making. So you’ve got to re-frame those comments in a more neutral or positive light.

That’s what Beth Jennings, a business analyst at one of the largest insurance companies in the country, learned when she attended my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program.  She deals with facts, numbers, and bottom-line results.

So people could have laughed at her when she talked about coming to my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary experience.  And people could have laughed at her when she told them how a few, simple, mind-management techniques can easily and dramatically change your bottom-line results.

But people stopped laughing when she proved her point.  After attending my Journey program, she decided to teach some of my mind-management techniques to her son.  As Beth said, “My son plays baseball and tends to have a negative attitude if he doesn’t have a good game.  In fact, you can physically see how upset he is with himself if he makes an error.   And after that, it all goes downhill.”

“Well on a particular Saturday afternoon, as we were driving to his game, he kept saying he knew he wasn’t going to do well.  In fact, he was on a streak of four games without a hit.  I firmly told him to ‘Stop it.  Let’s try something new today. Let’s talk positively.’

“I asked him to recite out loud with me, ‘I will get a hit today.’  I asked him to just try it for this one game and if it didn’t work I wouldn’t keep hounding him about being positive.  So, all the way to the game, my son and two other children and I were saying, ‘Andrew is going to get a hit today.’”

“I also asked him to tell himself ‘I am going to get a hit today’ as he was on deck, warming up, and stepping to the plate.  I’m happy to report that he actually got three hits during his four times at bat during that game.   And as we were talking about the game on the way home, he told me he was thinking positive every time he was at bat.”

“A week later, at the next game, he went two for three!  As he walked off the field after the game, I said, ‘Great job Andrew.’  And he replied, ‘I said that thing again when I went up to bat!’  And for everyone wondering, his team is on a six-game winning streak!

Beth Jennings learned … and then her kids learned … that if you know how to manage your mind, you can influence your results.  And that principle is true in every part of life and business.

(PS:  My next Journey-to-the-Extraordinary experience will be in Chicago, IL on November 10-11, 2016.  If you register now, you qualify for the $500 Early-Bird Registration DiscountClick here for more information.)

So when you’re in a difficult conversation, learn to re-frame negative comments into positive comments.  It’s powerful.

If your kid, for example, calls you a “jerk,” you could re-frame the comment. You could say, “It sounds like you’re upset about something I did.” Or if you’re a teenager and your parents are labeling you as “irresponsible” for missing your curfew, you could rephrase their criticism by saying, “I appreciate the fact you care about my safety and whether or not my word means anything.”

Any comment from difficult people, no matter how negative, can be re-framed into something more constructive.

Final Thought:  It’s not about who’s right but what’s important.