Dealing with Difficult People

You know who I’m talking about. For me it’s the person who when I see him/her coming, my primal reaction is often to avoid that person, stress out when we have to interact, want to change him/her into someone else, to judge and blame them. However, I have to remember the only things I am able to control are my own choices of thoughts, actions and responses. My self-awareness gives me the power to make informed and intentional choices in any interaction. Easy to say, often challenging to achieve.

Why work on your own self-awareness? It certainly will make things more pleasant for you and those you interact with. And, harmonious relationships can be a huge contributor to achieving our desired business results.

To help us raise our self-awareness, let’s look at three common causes of ineffective interactions.

  1. Assumed intent – “He doesn’t like me and wants to take out his problems on me.” “He’s only concerned about his own self-interests.” “She’s so emotional and always needs to be the center of attention.”

  2. Magnification – Let’s say that John is late for today’s meeting. You are triggered by this and your thinking escalates: “It seems like John is always late. -> John does not care about this team. -> John is the reason our team will fail.” [The observable fact is John is 10 minutes late today. We don’t yet know why.]

  3. Labeling – Jim is two-faced. Joe is not a team player. Nancy is a manipulator.

Awareness of self and the other person is the key.

  • Take a moment when those instant thoughts and emotions come up regarding the challenging person or situation.

  • Take a breath.

  • Respectfully stay present in the moment, meaning pay attention to what actually is happening, not where your mind is spinning off to.

  • Give yourself direction and instructions for how you want to and will respond in this moment.

  • Act on actual observation and facts.

  • Give the person feedback when needed, respectfully from awareness.

  • Acknowledge when you have said or done something that might make you occur as the “difficult person”. Learn to self-adjust your thoughts, attitude, speaking, body language in the moment to a more aware, respectful position.

You may not be pursuing a new best friend relationship with this person. But look for where you can begin to cooperate with them and have a productive relationship. Become aware of what your part and responsibility is in the success of this relationship.

Everyday life can bring us many challenging opportunities to try out new ways of seeing others and being with them. This is good because dealing with “difficult people” takes practice. So hang in there and acknowledge your progress as you become more aware.

About the Author

Debra Larsen is a Senior Consultant at Statêra focused on Change Enablement. For over 20 years she has worked as a change management consultant, project manager, and interim executive manager across industries and organizations of all sizes. For increasing self-awareness, she enjoys yoga and meditation.