Difficult People

Some people are just difficult to deal with.  Maybe it is them, maybe it is us.

Clearly if it is us, we can learn, change, and improve if we realize the issue and are willing to accept that change is a good thing.  (And honestly, for most people that is a BIG “IF.”)

But what if the difficult person really is the other person?  Can we improve our communication to help the situation?

I say “definitely maybe.”  It depends on the person and the situation.  But it certainly worth a shot, isn’t it?

First, realize that a majority of the most difficult people are typically insecure (whether they even know it or not).  This includes perfectionists and micro-managers.  These people fear failure, lack trust in others or need the accolades of success to feel better about themselves.

But this is not about changing them.  You really can’t change them.  And you shouldn’t.  So stop trying that.


So what do you do?   Well, focus on your behaviour!  Here are 8 tips to get you started:

1.  Find common points to agree on, even when disagreeing.  This is effective and is classic Dale Carnegie (see “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”)

2.  Sincerely complement them on something, anything, even if it is essentially meaningless.  It makes them feel respected.  “I think your idea is interesting, tell me more.” 

3.  Don’t worry about controlling the conversation. It’s okay if they want to lead.  Let them.

4.  Do not argue. Ever. It just builds walls and defenses.

5.  Give permission for disagreement without making it adversarial.    “I think I can deliver this project by the deadline if you will give me these resources, but you can tell me I’m wrong.”

6.  Always be sincere.  Believe what you say and be nice, polite and honest.  (This is not the same as being a push-over, so don’t confuse it.)

7.  Never be sarcastic.  That is really just passive aggressive and comes off even worse in email and texts.

8.  Help them help you.  “I see you feel strongly about how this should be done.  I would like to see if I can do this task alone and then have you tell me what I did right and wrong.  Can you let me do that?  You can tell me ‘no’.”


Can your behaviour improve the outcome when working with difficult people?

My dear friend Roger was a master at working with difficult people.  He could often get them to believe that his ideas were really their ideas.   He was never worried about the credit and this made it much easier for him to really make progress.  And he always had a sense of humor about it, so that kept the right perspective.

Who do you know that handles difficult people and situations with grace and success?  What can you learn from them?  Are you paying attention?



About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.