Difficult people have been described in my seminars as mean, rude, inconsiderate, selfish, controlling, unresponsive, unapproachable, and insincere. Books written about difficult people describe and analyze them in at least a dozen categories. It gets so confusing to know how to interact with difficult people in the most positive and constructive manner.
My objective is to help you understand difficult people and provide you with some very simple techniques that you can implement when dealing with them so that your life can become more productive and less stressful.
Why are people difficult? There are many reasons, but the one most dominating characteristic that I’ve found within difficult people is fear. They feel fear and therefore react by trying to control others.
Have you ever felt fear and reacted in a difficult way? Recently my computer crashed. I did not have any data backed up. I was upset with myself, with the manufacturer of my computer (it was less than one year old!), and with everyone who asked the question – did you back up your data? Additionally, it seemed that every technician I spoke with told me something different about the possibilities of restoring my data. I was fearful that I would not retrieve my data, so I became less than pleasant to deal with. The good news is I was able to retrieve most of my data. But in the interim, I was a difficult person.
What about people who are always difficult? There are people who seem to be difficult constantly. There’s one question we need to ask ourselves – Is this difficult person someone whom I have to deal with? For example, last year I did business with a person who was very gruff. I was her client. When I first visited her office, even her dog looked stressed. This should have been a sign! Recently I decided to give it one more try, and things were even worse. This time she actually swore at me. That was all I needed to end the relationship. I decided that I did not have to deal with this person. It’s crazy to think that I would actually pay someone to abuse me! Are there any difficult people in your life whom you don’t have to deal with?
So what about those difficult people who we have to deal with? Think about the relationships that are worth transforming from difficult to pleasant. Perhaps a co-worker or relative fits the description. Some of my clients tell me that they can fill two sides of a sheet of paper with names of people who are difficult. So where do we go from here?
The good news is that there are many strategies you can implement to transform these relationships.
Strategy #1 – React to difficult people unemotionally. Do not take difficult encounters personally! When someone is projecting his/her anger, frustration, or controlling ways onto you, remember that although it may seem like a personal attack, it has nothing to do with you. It does have everything to do with the difficult person. React unemotionally, let the person vent frustrations, and truly listen. This will help you keep a clear mind and a positive attitude.
Strategy #2 – Focus on facts, benefits, and most importantly, solutions. Understand what the person is saying and view things from his/her perspective. Don’t feel pressured to say you’re right, or I agree. Simply say I understand why you feel this way – and propose a solution; or ask, what can we do to solve this problem – whichever is most appropriate for your specific situation. This will increase your confidence in dealing with difficult people and begin the process of transforming the relationship from difficult to pleasant. Difficult people need to feel you’re on their side. This doesn’t mean you agree with them or that you play into their negativity. This means that you would like to work together to develop a solution. There’s a big difference.
Strategy #3 – Confront difficult people and fears directly. One of the toughest things about dealing with difficult people is dealing with your own fears about the difficult encounters. Your own negative thoughts can be an excruciating way of torturing yourself. Negative thoughts will cause you to procrastinate for hours and feel a ton of stress. Fill your mind with positive affirmations (It’s worth it, etc.) Listen to upbeat, mood-lifting music prior to your encounter. Be prepared to communicate openly with difficult people, address their fears, and propose ways to resolve them. Don’t play into negative gossip about the difficult person – instead simply walk away. Please keep in mind that venting and brainstorming for solutions is different from gossiping. Gossiping is complaining without taking action. Gossiping is destructive and leaves you with no solutions. Once you establish open communication with difficult people and address their fears, they will begin to trust you and feel that you are on their side. This is a tremendous turning point.
Strategy #4 – Use the power of graciousness. Graciousness is simply a kindness of spirit. In order to transform difficult relationships, we need to project kindness. I understand this can be tough. At this point, it will help you to keep your priorities in mind. Additionally, think of the benefits you’ll gain as a result of your efforts. Don’t pick difficult people apart and complain. Simply take corrective action, and focus on the positives. Thank difficult people verbally or through a hand written note for anything you possibly can, including advice, a response you’ve been waiting for, their interest, etc. This is a powerful strategy. It reinforces the desired behavior. If you’re offered advice, don’t debate why it won’t work simply say, Thank You I’ll keep that in mind. This reduces the stress that you’ll feel. Additionally, it takes away the tension and negative energy that usually accompanies these encounters. Remember, it’s not about being right – it is about transforming a relationship.
Relationships with difficult people can be transformed from difficult to pleasant. The strategies I’ve introduced are simple, but the follow through can be tough. It’s up to you to answer the question –Is it worth it? I’ve had much success when I’ve implemented the above strategies, and I know that they will work for you. Simply open your mind to the possibility that difficult relationships can be transformed, follow through on the above strategies, and always remain optimistic. Get ready to experience the joy that new positive and productive relationships will bring you!