May 2009 - Expert Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People
- We have met the enemy, and it is us ... (Pogo)
- Strategies for dealing with difficult people
- Resources (links, books, articles, the
My favorite Minister, Rev. Peggy Bassett, used to say, "The best thing
you can do for poor people is not be one of them." In todayís
interesting times, Iíll take the liberty of adapting that to also say, "The
best thing you can do for sick people is not be one of them."
The worldwide situation of economic challenges over the past few years and
now interesting public health events means that we have to work together
more closely than we ever have before. We all need each other to
survive. And, we can harm each other much more quickly than we could when
it took months to cross the country by foot or by wagon.
We can no longer isolate ourselves and feel safe. The world is no
longer as it was when our grandparents grew up. It is no longer the way it was
when our parents grew up. In fact, itís not even the way it was when most of
the people reading this article grew up.
Where do we go from here? The answer is simply: Go forward, doing
the very best we can every day ó doing what we can, where we can, when we can
ó every single day in the best way we know how.
This month, we offer a guest article from Dr. Mark Lauderdale, about
"Dealing with Difficult People" Ė one of the favorite topics of our
readers. We also suggest that each one of us may be considered
"difficult" by someone else on a regular or not-so-regular
basis. That awareness is not an easy one for most people to deal
The very best we can do every day is to be kinder, gentler, more
compassionate and more forgiving of everyone else we encounter along the way ó to soften our own
"critical self" or our "negative self" as much as we
can. The benefit to us ó individually as well as
collectively ó and to everyone else ó is
better mental health, better physical health and a longer life span.
Happy, healthy people live longer. And, they are much more productive
in their working lives and more satisfied in their personal lives. Thatís
a fact. The best thing we can do about
"difficult people" is not be one of them!
I hope you will take an opportunity this month to help yourself and by doing
that, help the rest of the world by being the very best you can be Ė keeping a
positive attitude, helping others, listening to others, being as healthy as you
can and being a role model where ever you are. The world needs all the
positive-ness we can get right now to counteract the underlying fears and the
media hype that comes with any new "event" or "incident"
that seems newsworthy.
Our wish for you: May you live long and prosper,
and may you be blessed by many friends to help you make your way through life.
by Mark Lauderdale MD FRCPC
Dealing with difficult people can seem like the LAST thing youíd
ever want to do in your life Ö and yet, it doesnít have to be that way.
It IS possible to create a positive change in your relationship with another
person, whether difficult or not.
The main problem is that the difficult person is behaving in some kind of
socially inappropriate way ó harassing, bullying, controlling, backstabbing,
gossiping, complaining, being rude, unmotivated, uncooperative, negative, etc,
Of course, in a brief article such as this, itís impossible for me to tell
you EXACTLY what to do about each kind of difficult behavior for each SPECIFIC
However, there are a few general principles that are essential when dealing
with difficult behavior of ANY kind.
1. Target the Specific Problem Behavior
Itís pointless trying to categorize difficult people into "difficult
personality types." No one is EVER going to fit ANY category
Furthermore, you canít change someoneís basic personality, so why bother
categorizing them in the first place!?
Itís much more useful to target the SPECIFIC behavior that is bothering
you. You will need to refrain from the temptation to see the person as
"all bad" or "hopeless" in order to do this.
If a person is difficult because they criticize you a lot or because the
volume of their voice is too loud when they talk to you or because they donít
respond to your requests, then target these behaviors.
Be VERY specific Ö and decide that it is possible for them to learn how to
2. Be Clear About Your Goal
This is where most people go wrong right off the bat! Most people never
even formulate an outcome goal Ö or they think of it in overly simple terms
such as, "I want them to stop behaving that way!"
It works far better to take a few moments to become clear about the way you
want things to be instead. In other words, what behavior do you want the
other person to be showing instead Ė providing helpful suggestions instead of
criticism, talking in a softer more patient way instead of raising their voice,
responding to your requests instead of ignoring you, collaborating instead of
bullying and so on.
Now, youíve got something to shoot for Ė a tangible positive goal to
create in your relationship. Furthermore, youíll KNOW when youíve achieved
Some people have been reluctant to set a goal like this. They say,
"I canít change someone." Itís true that you cannot change
someoneís basic personality and itís also true that you canít CONTROL
ÖBut you CAN influence them. And, you will stand the best chance of
influencing them if you have a positive outcome in mind that will benefit them
as well as you Ė a positive goal. Examples
of goals for dealing with difficult people.
3. Eliminate Your Negative Emotions
You cannot produce a positive change from a negative place. I
canít overestimate the importance of this step.
When you react to a personís difficult behavior out of anger, frustration,
anxiety or fear, etc. you will ALWAYS do the wrong thing Ö automatically!
Itís the way our brains are built. If you have negative feelings, you
will do negative things Ö and you will just make things worse.
Youíll engage the other person in a fight or youíll give up on a fixable
situation prematurely or youíll do something for which youíll suffer
I have developed a personal empowerment method over the years that is very
effective for transforming a personís negative emotional reactions and stress
into a constructive positive emotional state when dealing with difficult people,
but the basic concept isÖ
Change your anger, frustration, anxiety or any other negative emotion into
positive feelings of strength, calmness and determination to make things
more about using the Wellspring Method to deal with difficult people
90% of human interaction is nonverbal. That means that HOW you say
something is more important than WHAT you say!
If your emotional state is positive, you will AUTOMATICALLY say it the right
4. Create a Learning Experience to
Motivate the Other Person to Change
Assuming youíve done the previous steps adequately, youíre ready to sit
down and brainstorm ways of influencing the behavior youíve targeted.
Most people try to shut it down the problem behavior right away. Big
Mistake! The other person will just resist, so give up the idea of trying
to stop it cold.
Instead, think about modifying it, influencing it. Think of something
you can consistently do or some way of changing the circumstances, so that the
behavior becomes more of a problem for THEM.
And furthermore, that the escape from the nuisance or problem youíve
created is through the desired behavior you want instead (your goal).
For example, every time the person criticizes you, you can calmly and in an
educational way, remind them that criticism wonít get them what they want from
you, but that helpful suggestions probably will.
Or, if a person raises their voice, you emphasize calmly yet firmly that you
canít hear what theyíre trying to say when they talk so loud (and happily
proceed with the conversation once they modify their volume).
Youíll have to be patient and persistent and create the nuisance every time
they engage in the target behavior.
Over time, especially if you maintain a respectful positive attitude towards
the person, even when they become annoyed with you and you clearly point to a
resolution through the desired behavior, you will start to see the positive
change you want.
You can find more details on using this and other approaches to influence the
behavior of difficult people in my e-book, ďSecrets
of Dealing with Difficult People.Ē
5. Reinforce the Positive Change
As soon as the other person starts to modify their behavior for the better,
reinforce it. Donít say negative things like, "You should have been
doing this all along" or "Itís about time."
How hard would it be for YOU to change a bad habit?
Be glad to see even minor improvements and let them know that you are
surprised and impressed that they were willing to make a change for you.
Without positive reinforcement, you risk returning to square one if the other
person becomes disillusioned with you and resorts to their favorite old behavior
pattern once again.
As you can probably imagine, Iíve spent years trying to help others manage
their emotions constructively and Iíve learned a great deal about being
effective with difficult people.
Iíve spent a lot of time observing and learning from experts (in
medicine, in psychology and in business) who could handle difficult people
beautifully and even make it look easy.
But Iíve also come across strategies along the way that were totally
USELESS in the REAL world for dealing with people.
After working with people for over 20 years I realized that being successful
with people does not come from having a bag of tricks or tips or techniques to
use with "this type of person" or "that type of problem."
What resulted in me having great success in dealing with difficult people of
all kinds was learning how to make a shift in my "inner reality" first
Ö and THEN creating positive change from this new
way of seeing things.
In my e-Book, "Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People," I go into
detail teaching you this very special perspective and understanding.
I even describe a step-by-step process that I call ĎThe Wellspring Methodí
that helps you shift out of your old way of thinking and into a new awareness
and attitude that generates phenomenal results with people.
Itís like having x-ray vision while everyone else fumbles around
in the dark!
I highly recommend that you read it. It has tons of useful concepts
that will help you approach people with confidence, know
what to say and bring out the best in others to achieve the
kind of satisfying workplace and successful relationships you want.
Source: Copyright © 2009 Wellspring Personal Effectiveness Inc. (Mark Lauderdale MD
FRCPC). Article used by permission of
- Disclosure: We get a
small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.
- Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People - electronic book by Dr. Mark
- How to Work with Just About Anyone: A 3-Step Solution for Getting
Difficult People to Change. Lucy Gill. Fireside,
0684855275 ISBN-13: 978-0684855271
- Toxic People: 10 Ways Of Dealing With People Who
Make Your Life Miserable. Dr. Lillian Glass.
St. Martin's Griffin, 1997. ISBN-10:
0312152329 ISBN-13: 978-0312152321
- Toxic People: Decontaminate Difficult People at
Work Without Using Weapons Or Duct Tape. Marsha
Petrie Sue. Wiley, 2007. ISBN-10:
0470147687 ISBN-13: 978-0470147689
- Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional
People on the Job. Alan A. Cavaiola, Neil J. Lavender.
New Harbinger Publications, 2000. ISBN-10:
1572242191 ISBN-13: 978-1572242197
- I Thought I Was the Crazy One: 201 Ways to Identify
and Deal with Toxic People. Amorah. Personhood
Press, 2003. ISBN-10:
1932181016 ISBN-13: 978-1932181012
- Toxic Relationships: How to Regain Lost Power in
Your Relationship. Kimberly J. Brasher. A
Better Life Publishing Co., 2003. ISBN-10:
0972731407 ISBN-13: 978-0972731409
- Coping with Toxic Managers, Subordinates ... and
Other Difficult People: Using Emotional Intelligence to Survive and Prosper. Roy H. Lubit. Financial Times Press;
illustrated edition 2003. ISBN-10:
0131409956 ISBN-13: 978-0131409958
- Toxic Relationships and How to Change Them:
Health and Holiness in Everyday Life. Clinton
McLemore. Jossey-Bass, 2003. ISBN-10:
0787968773 ISBN-13: 978-0787968779
- Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your
Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. Susan
Forward, Donna Frazier. Harper Paperbacks, 1998. ISBN-10:
0060928972 ISBN-13: 978-0060928971
- Attracting Terrific People: How To Find - And
Keep - The People Who Bring Your Life Joy .
Lillian Glass. St. Martin's Griffin, 1998. ISBN-10:
0312180454 ISBN-13: 978-0312180454
- Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy
and Reclaiming Your Life. Susan Forward,
Craig Buck. Bantam, 2002. ISBN-10:
0553381407 ISBN-13: 978-0553381405
- Income Without a Job: Living Well Without a Paycheck. Michael
Jay Anthony, Barbara J. Taylor. Lulu.com,
978-0-557-00377-8. Website: www.income-without-a-job.com.
into your own creativity and use your full potential. Learn how
to see opportunities that others miss.
Related newsletter articles:
February 2009 - Staying Inspired
2007 - Crucial Conversations
2008 - Dealing with "Problem" Employees
1999 -- Dealing with Difficult People
July 2000 -
Dealing with Co-Workers We Don't Like
September 2003 -
Dealing with Difficult People (Working with Personality Dragons)
June 1999 - Dealing
with Personality Dragons
July 2006 - Giving
and Receiving Feedback
April 2007: Tips
for dealing with workplace jerks
May 1999 - Respect
in the Workplace
May 2003 -- Respectful
July 2005 -
Bullying in the Workplace (Dealing with Difficult People)
This exercise is based on the principles of shamanism and many different
- Sit in a comfortable position where you will not be bothered.
- Imagine that you are in a beautiful place where you are safe.
- Bring to mind some incident where you felt hurt, disappointed or
frustrated with someone else. It can be large or small.
- Acknowledge that incident and imagine that you write it down.
- Then, in your mind's eye, take the paper to a big bonfire and burn it,
seeing it disappear completely.
- Imagine that you are thanking the person involved for helping you learn a valuable
- Forgive them for the incident and send them a big dose of
compassion. And, forgive yourself for any negative feelings you have
- Move on to another incident until you feel complete.
You can do this exercise in a physical form by actually writing out what
happened and burning the paper safely, knowing that it is completely gone.
When we hang on to old imagined hurts, our energy is stuck and we cannot move
forward. Letting go of the issue is a great way to gain more energy for
yourself and to improve your mental health, which also will improve your
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