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Insights: Dealing with Difficult People
August 25, 2010

Dealing with Difficult People

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"If you want plenty of experience in dealing with difficult people,
then have kids."

- Bo Bennett

I consider myself amazingly fortunate to be in a business where I deal with so many wonderful people - people who, for the most part, are passionate about improving their own lives and those of others.

I guess this is what comes from doing something you love as opposed to something that you tolerate in order to pay the bills or otherwise get on in life.

But, hey, let's face it, even in the best of businesses one gets to deal with some pretty 'difficult' people from time to time, not so?

So what's the best way of dealing with 'difficult people'?

In life coaching we advocate steering away from the label 'difficult', particularly when applied to clients, because we know that the perception that a client is being 'difficult' is more often than not an indication that the coaching method or approach needs to change.

So here is my first tip:

TIP 1: Think 'challenging' not 'difficult'

If you can condition yourself to think of people as challenging rather than difficult, you will immediately derive benefits as your mental attitude shifts from:

"This is really irritating and it's their issue," to

"This is really tricky but it's my challenge".

Adopt the former attitude and you cede your power or ability to act positively on the situation. Adopting the latter mentality, however, involves taking ownership of the problem and allowing yourself to make thoughtful choices about how to handle it.

And that brings me to tip number two:

TIP 2: Don't react, Act!

I remember many times in my business career feeling under stress and reacting angrily to comments or emails that I thought were some form of veiled threat or provocation.

What did I achieve?

Perhaps some short-term relief followed by the rapid realisation that I had created an even more 'difficult' person and an even more tense situation for myself to deal with.

Reacting, on the spur of the moment, to a person or situation you find difficult or annoying, is like trying to dowse a glowing ember with petrol!

Reacting is an unthinking response to your own internal emotions based on the premise that someone or something else is responsible and deserves your retribution. You end up giving your power away, not channeling it, positively, into a solution.

'Counting to Ten', taking 'time out' or 'sleeping' on the issue is always a great idea as it gives you time and space to come to terms with why your emotions have been raised, what responsibility you have for that and what you can do about it.

When you have thought it through and are ready, then take the necessary conscious action!

Tip number three is to take a leaf out of the book of those who most would acknowledge to have had the most profoundly positive impact on people. Olden day prophets like Jesus, Mohammed and Buddah - and more modern icons like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Mandela...

TIP 3: Act with tolerance, calmness and compassion

Next time someone is being 'difficult' towards you, try this: Reciprocate with (authentic) kindness and compassion.

Once you understand that you can control the disturbance you are feeling you can resolve to remain calm and reach out in a state of grace as you seek to break the natural pattern of escalating tension.

In all likelihood you will be amazed and delighted by the other person's reaction.

If you are a man reading this you might find this a little more difficult to swallow than our friends of the fairer gender. We men are more programmed to 'fight fire with fire' and often perceive a gentler approach to any perceived form of confrontation to be a sign of weakness.

Sorry guys but nothing could be further from the truth!

And here's a final tip...

TIP 4: Resolve to grow through the experience

My first tip was to look at 'difficult' people or situations as personal challenges. Difficulties that you experience in life are there for one purpose - to provide you with opportunities for growth.

People who confront and deal with challenges in life are people who experience self-growth. That's what makes life rewarding and meaningful.

So, the next time some really irritating and difficult person steps into your life, you know what to do...

Smile, relish the challenge and embrace the opportunity for self-growth!

Till next week...

Warm regards,


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