Principles and Tips to Deal with Difficult People
The investigative in-law. The bossy boss. The crying child. The nasty neighbor. The cranky colleague. You may prefer to categorize them all as “jerks”. The list of “jerks” that make life miserable go on. Fortunately, there are principles and tips to help you deal with difficult people.
Principles do not change. Water is two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom – this will not change. The North poles of two magnets repel – this will not change. Gravity rips you down to Earth – this will not change. The unchanging laws of science are parallel to the unchanging principles and laws of communication to deal with difficult people.
If you have a difficult person in your life, you may think he or she is impossible to deal with, yet the person is not an impenetrable rock. It’s human! And humans follow laws of psychology and behavior you can benefit from. This article will provide you with judo-like principles to convert seemingly impossible forces of a difficult person into tips to effectively deal with them.
The world is filled with stubborn people. The difficult and not so difficult people even think you can be difficult. Learn the following tips (taken from my Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program) to deal with difficult people in your everyday life:
4 Common Methods that Do Not Work
Sending solutions. Common phrases that indicate solving include: “What if you…” “Stop doing… and start…” and “Why don’t you…” Telling people what to do does not work. Solutions are the problem. The more you push solutions on people, the more they pull away from you and your suggestion. Real solutions, commitment, and desire for change come from participation.
Moralizing. Common phrases that indicate moralizing include: “You should….” “It would be good for you to…” and “Stop doing wrong…” Chapter eight of my program defines moralizing words as “using what is right and wrong, good and bad, black and white to further your logic.” Manipulation from guilt and other emotions that arise from moral words do not change difficult people yet alone anyone.
Complaints. “I wish Bill wasn’t so damn annoying.” Bickering is mental masturbation. Creation comes from being proactive. If you complain, you’re the difficult person. You become no better than the person you try to change.
Criticism. People criticize to build change. “I’m results-focused. I criticize people to get things done.” Similar lines of thinking drive the 12 communication barriers (criticism, labeling, diagnosing, praise, orders, threats, questions, moralizing, advice, reason, reassurance, and deflecting). Avoid criticism because it is not charismatic persuasion. Criticism intensifies conflict. Criticized individuals feel diminished, unworthy, and less important.
10 Principles and Tips to Deal with a Difficult Person
The following principles and tips are not short-term tricks to transform an annoying person. Endless articles shared on the Internet provide frivolous advice on this topic. When the core problem is addressed, however, colds get skipped and the cancer is cut out. Advice shared here gets to the core of what really matters when dealing with a difficult person.
1. You see the world as you are. Stephanie Rosenbloom for The New York Times hit the heart of difficult people; or rather the people who think someone is difficult. Rosenbloom says the issue “is not the difficult people themselves. It is you.”
Problems transmute from your perception, then your reaction.
Most articles that provide tips to deal with difficult people focus on difficult individuals (“They’re the problem”); hence they miss the real problem (“You’re part of the problem”). You play a role in a difficult person’s behavior. Problems transmute from your perception, then your reaction. Carl Jung said we repress our hated characteristics, which manifest in discomfort around people we repulse. Jungian psychoanalyst Edward Whitmont writes:
Ask someone to give a description of the personality type which he finds most despicable, most unbearable and hateful, and most impossible to get along with, and he will produce a description of his own repressed characteristics – a self-description which is utterly unconscious and which therefore always and everywhere tortures him as he receives its effect from the other person. These very qualities are so unacceptable to him precisely because they represent his own repressed side; only that which he cannot accept without ourselves do we find impossible to live with in others.
What characteristics in people do you hate most? What do these characteristics say about you? Who does not find the person difficult? What can you learn from the person who does not find the person hard to face?
A chronically difficult person is rare. Your self-image makes people difficult. I strongly encourage you to notice as often as possible what you deny in yourself because this could be a repressed image, a shadow you see in others, that you have ignored in the past. “In the end,” says Rosenbloom, “the specialists say, we cannot control other people, only our response to them.” (The first chapter of my Big Talk training course taps into this deep, dark psychological theory that stops us from enjoyable conversation. When you connect with your full self, it becomes easy to connect with people and make friends. This is cutting-edge material you can discover more about here.)
2. Lose the need to be right. When you enter a conversation with the intent to fix someone, you become difficult. Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says you must open yourself to be influenced to influence. Quit thinking you are right because this drives your resistance to be changed and change people.
3. Clear your heart, open your mind. Too often our experiences with people hurt our current conversations with them. It takes time for someone in your negative light to shift under a positive spotlight even when the person hasn’t been difficult for a while.
Forgive to clean your heart then keep an open mind as to why someone is difficult. Stop hopping to conclusions by portraying the problem as the person’s difficulty. You blockade truth with judgments and fear of self-analysis.
Perhaps you are the problem, their father was diagnosed with cancer, or they are in financial trouble. Acknowledge that you do not – and will never – know all reasons why someone is difficult. An open mind that welcomes a person’s point of view to enter possible explanations for their behavior creates a cushion to soften harsh judgments.
Listen to the difficult person and let them express their point of view. It will help you see why they are difficult. This tip alone can be enough to deal with the person as you see the reason for their behavior. Listen honestly and actively with empathy.
4. Want difficult people. It’s scary, but wanting a bothersome person helps you. Difficult people create conflict – and this creates change. An organism with no challenge has no reason to evolve. Difficulties challenge you, compelling you to evolve into a superior being.
Does this mean you can be difficult? No. There is people who find you difficult enough. The diversity of human nature brings with it differences that catapult humanity through difficulties.
5. Be proactive, not reactive. Reactive persons blame circumstances for their reality. They reciprocate bad behavior. They reason other people need to change.
The diversity of human nature brings with it differences that catapult humanity through difficulties.
Proactive persons create what they want regardless of constricting circumstances. Create a value in yourself to be proactive and treat people with respect. Once you stop reciprocating bad behavior, you feel proud, empowered, and in control of your life regardless of whether you successfully handle the situation. Make the fundamental decision to commit to the advice given in this article.
6. Be responsible, not a victim. Don’t blame people for how they make you feel. The degree you’re a victim of someone’s behavior controls the impact it has on you.
Take responsibility for how you feel. Prevent people from entering and exiting your emotional state at will. Eliminate blame to free yourself from a person’s difficult behavior.
You don’t have to be burdened by people’s problems. You will work towards a solution faster and be less emotionally exasperated when you lose the victim mentality and stop thinking people are villains. My friend Gary Harper has a good article on this where he also discusses similar principles to this article.
7. Be problem-oriented, not person-oriented. Difficult people have a difficult problem and are trying to fulfill a need the only way they know possible. It seems elusive, but even they want to live in harmony.
People are not the problem. Focus on the problem and not the person. A helpful tip for this is to disassociate the problem from the person. Their behavior, even you, or something else is the problem.
8. Find the unmet need. Difficult people have an unmet need. Whether somebody is angry, unhappy, depressed, loud, or anxious, they try to fulfill a need – though it is often done poorly. Notice a hidden need beneath someone’s difficult behavior, and you will see another human being. This will allow you to compassionately communicate. The Nonviolent Communication Process is a model that gets you focused on, and fulfilling, other people’s needs and your own.
9. Be interdependent. Dependency is unhealthy. To overcome this, self-help experts teach independence. According to most people, independence is health, freedom, and power. By itself, nothing could be further from the truth.
According to Robert Greene, author of 48 Laws of Power, a powerful individual living in isolation destroys his power. John O’Neil in The Paradox of Success confirms Greene’s remarks. O’Neil says leaders and other individuals in powerful positions destroy their success and happiness with overt independence. Such persons do it all, have chronic obsessions with work and difficulties getting their mind off work, and easily become irritated by others who disagree with their decision-making.
A powerful communicator knows how to distribute decision-making for freedom. He or she knows how to seek help because the person is not afraid to admit failure and learn. This is the interdependent standpoint you need beyond solitude. “When we try to pick out anything by itself,” said famed conservationist John Muir, “we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
Use other people to help solves problems. It sounds simple because it is. Talk to a parent, manager, or human resource department. People bring knowledge, skills, and persuasive power to handle a difficult person. Be beware of risks associated with making a private problem public. It’s your responsibility to respect a person’s privacy concerns and at the same time request another’s help when necessary.
10. Be detached from an outcome.
The Key Skill to Manage Difficult People
Listening is the most important skill to manage a difficult person. When you actively listen, you immediately implement many of the principles discussed in this article. Here are some key points to keep in mind to effectively listen that summarize principles of dealing with difficult people:
- Enter the present moment. Focus on the now, not the past or future.
- Stop judging their words. Avoid solutions, criticism, and moral statements – even if you don’t verbalize them – because thinking such patterns affect your behavior.
- Name the difficult behavior without judgmental evaluation. “You are angry” is right as opposed to “You are annoying”. This creates awareness to initiate change.
- Encourage emotional expression: “Tell me about what made you angry”. Resisting emotions causes them to persist and makes a difficult person more stubborn.
If the above tips and principles fail you, it’s not because they don’t work – it’s because you disobeyed them. The principles and tips given to you cannot fail because they are the foundations for good communication.
When you attach to an outcome, your rigidity causes resistance.
If you lose the need to be right while remaining proactive, for example, you deal with the difficult person. Stop thinking the only way to deal with a difficult person is to change them, such desire only makes you difficult.
When you attach to an outcome by seeking a specific result from an interaction at all costs, your rigidity causes resistance. The most common outcome people attach to when they converse with a difficult person is their need to be right and change the person (principle #2). Going into a conversation with the righteous intent to change a person guarantees failure. You must detach from an outcome.
If the principles and tips do not bring you the result you’re after, prepare to walk away. Give the people involved space to think the problems through. By doing this, you clear your heart and open your mind, remain proactive, and keep problem-oriented. A tough issue can be solved at a later time. Another day can bring different possibilities. Emotions, thoughts, and attitudes change.
Unsuccessful conflict resolution with a difficult person can escalate the problem, but adhere to these principles and tips to deal with a difficult person to make the difficult more manageable. “Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen,” said Friedrich Nietzsche, “few in pursuit of the goal.”
(If you are reading this and found the above principles and tips to deal with difficult people helpful, you will enjoy my “Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program” where the principles for this article were extracted. Click here to learn more about the program and how you can develop your communication skills to charismatically have cold-hearted persons wanting to change. Also discover more about Big Talk, my training course that lets two persons openly and freely talk with one another, by clicking here.)
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy persons build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/