Dealing with Difficult People

Most people are regularly stressed and frustrated by the behaviors of co-workers, bosses, internal and external customers.  This article will help you understand and effectively cope with the “difficult people” you encounter.

            What is a “difficult person”?   The dictionary defines “difficult people” as “causing hardship”, “needing skill and effort to handle”, and “not easy to be around”.  Moreover, difficult people are considered a true source of stress in one’s life. 

            You can begin your strategizing with the simplest method of reducing the overall stress associated with “difficult people”. The answer lies with redefining and narrowing what we consider a “difficult person” to be.  Statistically less than 10% of the populace is truly difficult to work with. Indeed, most of the people we consider difficult are simply different in their personality, backgrounds, and appearances.  Just because someone is different from us doesn’t mean that they are “difficult to work with”.  Truly difficult people have recognizable, well-defined obstreperous characteristics. 

Paraphrasing Patricia M Hines, there are seven types of truly difficult people. 

·         Dominate/Aggressive types are known for bullying people and thrive on attacking the perceived weaknesses and indecisiveness of others.  They are seen as impatient, pushy and fault finding.  When frustrated they can explode into brief but scary tantrums and rants.  It is important to avoid feeling intimidated or overwhelmed by their aggressiveness.  Realize that their explosive behaviors are usually “tempests in teapots” and with patience can pass as quickly as they occur.  Avoid giving into or surrendering yourself to their aggressive, inappropriate wants and needs.  Conversely, do not fan the flames of their ire by attacking back.  Help them try to sublimate their aggressive tendencies while setting limits on their negative behaviors.

·         Indecisive types are opposite of Aggressive types.  They often are passive and non-committal.  They tend to equivocate and procrastinate regarding their decisions and actions.  They are motivated by a need to placate others for fear of upsetting someone.  They vie for time, hoping a pressing situation will “go away”.  It is helpful to validate and build on this person’s thinking.  Coach them toward clarifying and acting on their thoughts and plans.   

·         No types react to ideas with negative comments.  They strongly resist change and are a poison to morale.  It is important not be defeated by their initial dooms-daying.  Be particularly well prepared when you present to a Notype.  Speak clearly about your strategies and goals.  Anticipate their criticisms and negativity. Gain a consensus among the group whenever practical.   Involve the No person in the formation and evolution of an action plan. 

·         Super agreeable types are overly positive and supportive when an idea is first broached.  Later, when it comes time for responsible follow-through, they may be reticent and act passive aggressively.  Use the “SMART” rule when working with agreeables.  “S” stands for being specific.  “M” reflects measuring progress.  “A” stands for choosing achievable tasks.  “R” is for producing results.  “T” stands for setting specific timelines for ongoing actions.

·         Know it all types can display the bravado of super aggressive but are truly more about demonstrating their knowledge and intelligence.  They have a vested interest in displaying their expertise and have limited tolerance for correction and “one ups men ship”.  They are also noted for wanting the last word.   Know it all’s needs and habits are well ensconced and hard to change.  The critical factor is not letting yourself feel threatened or overly annoyed by their arrogance.  Let them have the lion’s share of the discussion, take what you wish from their knowledge base and move on.  Try to set limits on the amount of time dedicated to discussing their expertise and enjoy the positive parts of your relationship.

·         Complainers are constantly finding fault with life.  They believe they are helpless victims of an unfair world.  They catastrophize regarding the normal issues they face on an everyday basis.  They make simple problems into complex monsters.  Avoid trying to bring solutions to their posed problems.  Your attempted problem solving will only draw you deeper into the abyss.  Also, notice that the complainer will greet your ideas with an increasing number of “yes buts”.  Avoid getting into a detailed discussion of their situation.  Acknowledge their emotional concerns and move on to greener pastures.  Remember, if your suggestions fail you will be the next topic for complaint.

·         Clams virtually shut down during times of perceived stress and controversy.  It is difficult to know where you stand with them because they will not discuss their opinions, fears or thoughts.  You need to tolerate their silence and lack of overt actions.  Be warm and supportive but realize some issues will not have a typical degree of closure.    

I wish you good fortune in working with the more “difficult people” in your life.  Remember if all else fails you can fall back on five more straightforward options:

1.    Avoid the person.

2.    Ignore their behavior.

3.    Confront specific aspects of their behavior, and then move on.

4.    Alter your attitude by laughing off the situation.

5.    If the situation continues, consult with a Manager or arbitrator to resolve the problem.

*If emotional issues continue seek the assistance of a qualified therapist at New Day Psychotherapy Group.