About the Episode
Difficult people are irritating!
Difficult people are frustrating!
Difficult people are tiring!!!
How the heck do I deal with them???
Those we characterize as difficult can absolutely drain us…if we let them! While difficult people impact us, we CAN choose how to let that impact affect us! That is and will always be in our control. So, what does this mean in terms of how to deal with difficult people? Good question! It means, it starts with us!
We always can choose how we feel, think, and act. While something, or in this case someone, may bring out non-serving reactions within us, we don’t have to let that consume us! This is just one of the pieces to the puzzle to dealing with difficult people – negating the detrimental impact they have on us! Learn how we can do this AND other key components to dealing with difficult people in this episode!
Welcome everybody to another episode of the G.R.I.T. – Give, Recognize, Implement, Time® podcast. I’m your host, Steven Nathenson, CEO and founder of Strive For More. So today I want to shift a little bit from some of our recent episodes. I want to get back into communication and specifically around difficult people. Oftentimes we can say, “This person is just difficult,” but what do we mean by that? So when we talk about how to deal with difficult people, that is one of the very first things, is what do we mean by difficult?
We’ve seen words have power, words have different meaning and connotation, and it can always be helpful for us to understand what we mean by some of the specific words we use, like difficult, because there’s often more underneath that surface. Do they berate people? Do they belittle them? Do they just not listen? Do they think that their ideas are the only ones that matter? What is it that makes them difficult? That’s one of the first things that can help us understand how to best deal with it.
The second thing is us. What impact do they have upon us? They can cause commotion. They can cause arguments, disagreements. And as a result we may feel, think, or act a certain way. Now, here’s the important crux of that. They can influence those for us, but they can’t control them. That is always our choice. How we feel, how we think, how we act, that’s up to us. We may naturally get frustrated if we feel like we are not being heard, but that doesn’t mean we have to shout and continue to cause that argument to happen. We have that choice. So again, first question, what do we mean by difficult?
Second question, what’s the impact that they have on us? What comes out? What are the feelings? What are the thoughts? What are the actions, behaviors? And then that recognition that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose how we want to respond. We may react a certain way, but that doesn’t mean that’s how we have to respond. That’s always up to us. So when we explore this a little bit more and we talk about people who, let’s say, are maybe belittled or they don’t listen, if we understand what it is that causes the difficulties and we then understand what that brings out in us, because that’s maybe a natural trigger for us, then we can really set ourselves up for success to understand what do we do in terms of how we deal with them?
Great example is, let’s say somebody always thinks that their idea is the best and maybe they talk over people. If we are going into a meeting with this person, we may know that this is likely to happen. So as leaders, perhaps there’s a way to set up the context of everyone’s going to get that turn. Maybe there’s a certain ball or mic or something like that, that we pass around, right, that allows people different opportunities to speak. Perhaps we set it up in a way where five minutes per person and we honor that. We set that agreement amongst the team. There’s ways to go in preemptively, to eliminate some of these difficulties.
And when it perhaps happens and they’re more forthright, if we allow ourselves to reach that level where it’s maybe anger, it’s aggression, it’s frustration, and we show that, we’re going to do nothing but breed contempt in that meeting. The levels are going to keep going up versus coming back down. That’s one of the tricks. That’s why we focus on what happens to us. What impact is there upon us? Because when I know that I may get frustrated or angry, when I am working with somebody who is difficult, if I show that to them, it doesn’t do anything to actually smooth that out. It’s going to feed into the problem because it’s going to make them angry. And we’re just going to butt heads even more than we already are.
So part of it is what can we do to come back down? Can we have a conversation with them? Can we bring out that issue? And as we’ve talked, there’s keywords to avoid in that; you, why, you make me angry, you don’t listen. If we are accusatory, we again are doing nothing but breeding into that issue. So what can we do to come back down? So let’s just take the example of somebody doesn’t listen to other people’s ideas and they always think that theirs is the best. Part of this is knowing the impact that it makes on me. If I feel like I’m not being heard, I could get frustrated, I could feel like I’m just being ignored.
So part of this is, again, there can be context, say from a leadership standpoint, in a meeting, or if it’s a one-on-one, having a conversation could be something of this nature, right? “You know, John, I love to have a moment of time to see, as we talk through and we collaborate, what’s going to be the best way for us to do that? I value the ideas that you have. Sometimes I feel like my ideas maybe get tossed to the side or we’re not even listening to them. So I want to just be able to see, because I feel sometimes I can’t get across what I want to get across, what’s going to be the best way for us to be able to present our ideas and then be able to go from there to figure out what the best direction is?”
We can put our best foot forward to address the difficulties. So that’s one of the things that I think is kind of foundational. I think most people respect actually having somebody come to them one-on-one versus, let’s say, running to a boss and then that boss talking to that person. So in terms of dealing with difficult people, that’s one place that I like to start when we actually start trying to mitigate that issue.
So number one again, what is it that makes them difficult? What is the reactions that we have? Now, what is the responses we want to have? Because they’re different. We can control how we act, we feel. And then once we understand that, then let’s talk about the language, like we’ve talked about prior episodes, staying away from you, staying away from why, to be able to approach that subject with them. There’s going to be more of respect from that person and having that conversation one-on-one to figure out where we collaboratively want to go together, versus it just coming from a boss.
What are we going to be comfortable with having tried as well? I can often get frustrated by saying, “Oh, they’re just talking over me. They’re not listening.” Well, have I tried? Have I used language that actually triggers them? Have I fed into the problem because we’re butting heads and I’m getting angry and aggressive and I just, “Come on. Why are you not listening to me? You always talk over me. Why? Just stop doing it all right. I want to be able to express my opinion without you jumping in on me.” How do you react to that?
That’s often how it comes out with difficult people, which just feeds into the problem and breeds contempt. So have we actually truly tried in a way that’s going to set us up for success? And there’s some prior episodes on having difficult conversations so I’m not going to get too much more in the weeds on that. I’m going to get into a little bit more of what are these next steps, say should that not work? Part of that question is what can make me feel like I’ve actually truly tried, what I feel is reasonable, to address the issue?
Number one, have I actually talked to them in a way that’s going to set us up to more likely reach what we want to get versus just causing more aggression? Number two, people can absolutely, a hundred percent, change. It’s a hundred percent true, but two things are also very true. It takes time and a desire to change. So part of that is how we give them appropriate time for that to change. We don’t change overnight. So we can’t expect right away the difficulties to just disappear. It’s unreasonable. Can we give enough time to watch that lesson? To mitigate? That is another way that we deal with difficult people, because if we’re always on somebody right from the jump, you’re not going to help yourself. We’re not going to help ourselves.
We’re just going to cause them and feel like, “Well, you know what? Whatever, it’s fine. You’re just going to complain and point out things that are wrong. Why would I change? You’re treating me terribly.” That’s how they’re going to feel. So what actions are we doing that may feed into that problem? I think that’s a very important ask of ourselves as well. What am I doing that’s breeding the difficulty versus mitigating it? That can be a very hard look inward to see what that answer is. But that time piece of it, our own actions, they’re very important pieces of it.
And what’s in it for them to change? What is it that they truly want and they value? Some folks may feel like, “You know what? I know all the answers, we’re doing it wrong. How can this possibly be?” And they’re focused very much on the work part of it. They don’t necessarily focus on the relationship piece of it. Maybe they want to continue to grow and advance their career and get to a senior position to get to a manager position. As we grow in those careers, the people skills become very much more important, even though we want to push them to the side, people skills or soft skills, life skills, as I had somebody once tell me, which is a great term for it, because they truly are life skills, they’re necessities, seeing the value in it, going beyond just the work can help them get to where they want to go.
So what’s in it for them? What is it that they truly care about? Because when I speak to something like that for somebody, we are actually much more likely to get them to come around and see what’s worth it for them to say, “Okay, you know what? Yeah, that’s fair. Here’s what I think can help do that. Let’s work on it.” What do they truly care about? How can we speak to that? Because one of the most powerful things that we can do is help people reach conclusions of their own volition, their own free will. When somebody reaches a conclusion on their own, they are much more intrinsically motivated to actually make that happen because they’ve come to it on themselves versus just being forced into doing something, right?
They see the value, the worth in it versus, “Oh, someone just told me how I have to do it and I don’t care what they say.” We don’t like to be forced into doing something. So part of this ability to deal with difficult people, because we want to tell them what to do, we want to tell them to stop it, is to help them see the value and the worth of doing it on their own. Because that is much more likely to create that change and mitigate that difficulty than it is forcing something upon people. But that’s something we like to do.
So I hope you enjoyed today. I hope this opened up a couple of thoughts for you in terms of how to deal with difficult people. So until the next time, remember if we never ask, we never will know. If we never try, we never will. Be the movement in your life.
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