There is no such thing as difficult people.

January 18th, 2012

Difficult people I have known! 

We can all think of people we have come across in our working lives (no names mentioned) who were difficult to deal with. Someone who seemed to have the ability to say or do absolutely the right thing to really wind you up. Someone who doesn’t listen? Takes credit for work you’ve done? Wastes your time with trivial issues? Acts like a know-it-all? Can only talk about themselves? Constantly criticizes? Sound all too familiar?

Whose problem is it?

When we come across one of these characters it can have a significant impact on how we feel, our emotional wellbeing and how happy (and productive) we are at work.  This is especially true when the person you’re struggling with is your boss or a team member.

Often it is all too easy to fall into the role of victim. Whatever is going wrong isn’t our fault and by blaming others we feel better in the short-term.

The problem with being a victim is that you give up control  and it does not resolve the  situation. I saw this put brilliantly recently as “it is like allowing someone to live rent free in your head”.

It’s all about you.

What one person see’s as a difficult or challenging person is not the same as others as we all have different levels of tolerance to certain behaviours. For example some people get incensed when someone is late for an appointment while others will be far more relaxed about it. I am in the latter camp so will incense others for whom strict timekeeping is important.

Only 2% of the population are considered to be truly difficult. It is therefore far more likely that where there is a problem with a difficult person, it is really a conflict; a difference of views, ideas, values or interests. Far better in this situation to appreciate that you are unlikely to change the person concerned and the only person you have the possibility of changing is yourself; not your personality but your behaviour.

So what can you do?

  • Understand your own behaviour – the first thing to do is to understand your own behaviour. We all have a default behaviour programme and a default response to conflict. It can be enormously helpful to understand your own default behaviour in order to avoid simply reacting to the other persons behaviour and instead think and choose your behaviour.
  • Take charge of your own behaviour – be aware of how your own behaviour (and the words you use) impacts on how others might react and adapt your behaviour accordingly. Do not allow yourself to be hooked by what other people say or do.
  • Build your confidence and self-esteem – believe in yourself first, in that way your interactions with others will improve.
  • Improve your listening skills – deep listening is one of the most difficult skills to learn and practise. It involves listening to the words and what is behind them and reflecting back what you think you have heard. You will need to listen more than you speak.
  • Understand the impact of your language/tone/body language – the words and what is behind the words are very important and can make a huge difference to the way the other person reacts. People are more influenced by how you say things than what you say.
  • Become more assertive – learn to become assertive rather than submissive or aggressive. The latter will often exacerbate a conflict situation and make your life harder.
  • Be likeable – people are more likely to do as you ask if they like, respect and trust you.
  • Learn the art of persuasion – persuading others involves changing the other persons mindset and will require the skills, qualities and characteristics to make you believable and credible.
  • Empathise – always be aware that the other person may see the world differently from you. Empathise with their viewpoint and offer solutions that ensure a win-win outcome.

It is not always easy to put these into practice, particularly when someone is struggling to deal with a difficult individual. It will take some hard work and patience. However, it is worth the effort as the benefits can be enormously powerful and unless you do take control the only person you will be hurting is yourself.

For more information about how to gain the skills needed to manage difficult people or conflict situations (including coaching support and training courses) please visit my website at

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One Response

  1. Some interesting ideas on changing how we are so as to deal better with others. I particularly agree with taking charge of your own behaviour as important.

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