The Common Types Of Difficult People

Hurt people hurt people.


Difficult Man 300I’m an idealist. I would like everybody to like everybody else. And I want everyone to get along.

But I’m also a realist. I know those things are never going to happen… because different people have different needs. And different people see the same things quite differently.

To make matters worse, some people are just plain difficult. I suppose that’s why Margaret (last name withheld) said, “My son’s school wants him to participate in a student exchange program. They think they can exchange him for a new photocopier.”

I’m sure you can name several difficult people in your life. They may be bosses, coworkers, customers, or family members. And I’m sure… if we were in the company cafeteria sharing lunch together… you could tell me what’s wrong with their behavior. But that would be a waste of time. Simply pointing out WHAT’S wrong with someone’s behavior doesn’t change that behavior.

It works a great deal better if you learn to identify the various types of difficult people you might encounter… and then learn HOW to respond to those types of difficult people. That way, you’d have a chance of either changing their behavior… or at the very least, not letting them get to you.

For starters, difficult people come in several varieties. I’ll explain a few of the more common ones. But they all share one characteristic. THEY ARE NON-COOPERATIVE.

They’re like cats. And mind you, I’m not putting down cats. I’ve got two of them, Floyd and Stewart. But cats are known to be noncooperative or independent — “independent” meaning, “Look, put food in my bowl. Then get out of my sight, okay?”

Non-cooperative, difficult people could also be like children. As P. J. O’Rourke says, “You know your children are growing up when they stop asking where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going.”

But let me identify some of the more common types of difficult people… because in any battle you must first identify the enemy. And these people exhibit behavior that is not appropriate and not acceptable.

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. (Remind you of any politicians?) 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 noncooperative. And their negative behavior makes it difficult for us to even want to cooperate with them. Former Congressman Ed Foreman said it quite well. He said, “It’s hard to kiss the lips at night that chew your butt all day long.”

Perhaps just as distressing are the…

2. 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.”

Another variety of difficult people are known as the…

3. Sarcastics

They do more than make a comment. They do so with a vocal tone, a facial expression, or a short phrase that expresses contempt.

It’s like the time I was speaking to an audience, and I had trouble with the microphone. The technician said, “Stand a little farther away from the mike.” I asked, “How far?” Someone in the audience said, “Do you have a car?”

Just teasing. But you get the point.

I certainly believe people have the right to dislike something, but it does not do any good to express that dislike in a humiliating, disrespectful manner. It only hurts the recipient — and it seldom if ever solves a problem.

It’s like the time David Carver was watching a movie at the local theater. He couldn’t hear the dialogue over the chatter of two women sitting in front of him. Unable to hear it any longer, he tapped one of them on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said. “I can’t hear.”

“I should hope not,” she replied sharply. “This is a private conversation.”

That’s three of the types of difficult people you’ll come across. As I said before, the first step in dealing with them is to recognize that THEY ARE DIFFICULT… instead of thinking you’re crazy or deficient. Then you’ll be in better shape to respond to those difficult people. I’ll tell you how to do that in next week’s “Tuesday Tip.”

Until then… beware of the most dangerous person in business — the articulate incompetent.

Which type of difficult person is most distressing for you — The Critic, The Liar, or The Sarcastic?

How do you typically respond to those people? How would you like to respond?