1999 - Dealing with Difficult People
- What Makes People "Difficult"?
- Symptom: The "Know it All"
- Symptom: "Do It My Way or Else!"
- Tips for Dealing with Others
- Tips for Supervisors
- Tips for Overcoming Negative Aspects in Yourself
- Resources (links, books, articles, humor)
Dealing with Difficult People
What makes people "difficult"?
Usually, the difficult person is someone who is working from the negative side of their
personality, rather than a conscious desire to be difficult. The person is often unaware
of themselves and how they affect others. They also don't realize how harmful their
actions are to their own career success.
In the business world, we are constantly faced with trying to work with others who may
challenge our ability to get things done.
There is great value to be gained when we take the time to try to understand
anothers viewpoint. By changing our attitude toward them and changing our viewpoint
about what makes them "wrong" we can find a wealth of knowledge to improve our
own ability to work with people.
This article addresses a couple personality aspects that are common in the workplace.
In future articles, we will highlight others.
We draw on our Personality Game to highlight these personality
This is a well-recognized trait, especially prevalent in technical
people. Many other professions share the trait. We see it often in computer
programmers, software developers, engineers, doctors and attorneys.
Example: As a business user of computers, you may ask what you think is
a simple question and get a response that is something like "how DARE you question me
or my judgment!"
Or, you make a suggestion and get a ton of excuses why that is not true,
why it shouldnt be done that way, why the person is an expert in their field, blah,
blah, blah . . .
Eventually, you give up trying to work with them.
This symptom is a manifestation of Arrogance. Arrogance is a defense against vulnerability
and insecurity, often learned in childhood when parents constantly criticize a child for
not being good enough. The person is so afraid of being seen as unworthy or incompetent,
that they immediately throw up a defensive shield against any possible attack. This
defense protects them for a while, but everyone else sees that it is false.
In the end, they lose credibility and respect the thing they fear most.
The results of arrogance and defensiveness:
- People refuse to deal with them
- People dont believe what they say
- People think they really dont know their job
- They may be fired eventually because of their attitude.
This is another well recognized trait that seems prevalent in people in management
positions or positions of corporate power. No matter what anyone says or does, this person
will force their ideas on everyone else. There can be no open discussion or involvement.
Things MUST be done this persons way or else.
Example: In a meeting, if someone offers a suggestion, this person will strongly make
it clear that their suggestions are not wanted. If you try to make a point, this person
will crush any attempts to deal rationally with the situation.
Eventually, everyone gives up trying to work with them.
This symptom is a negative aspect of Dominance:
Dictatorship. This symptom is at it's worst when the persons primary role is Warrior or King. If they happen to
also have Power mode combined with Dominance, people will FEEL
as if someone punched them in the stomach when the person lets loose with their verbal
The positive side of Dominance is Leadership. When this person is relaxed
and working from the positive side of their personality, they can be quite effective and
charming. As with Arrogance, stress or insecurity may bring on the attack. It may seem to
come without warning or you may be able to see the stress building up.
In the end, the person loses their ability to control events the thing they fear
Many people operating from this negative position are fired publicly, causing them
great humiliation and complete loss of control over events. Needless to say, those who
have been subjected to their tyranny are joyous in celebrating their defeat.
The results of domineering people:
- People will avoid them or refuse to deal with them
- People will not tell them the truth or provide them with vital information that might
help them make better decisions
- People learn to ignore or discount their opinions or decisions
- People will avoid implementing their ideas and subvert their authority (consciously or
- They may be fired because of their bad decisions and poor leadership abilities.
- When you see someone go into attack mode or excess defensiveness, recognize
that it is useless to argue with them.
- Realize that the person is feeling very insecure at that time.
- Dont continue to push them because they will only get worse.
- If the symptoms only seem to occur when the person is under stress, wait
until another time to pursue the discussion.
- If they are always overly defensive or always attacking others, you may
need to find another person to work with who does not have the same problem.
- Keep your own sense of self-confidence and don't allow yourself to be
- If the difficult person is your boss, reconsider whether it's time to
find a job elsewhere.
- Help the person see how much their negative behavior is damaging their
- Set goals for them to learn to work better with others and monitor their
behavior until it improves.
- If it does not improve within a reasonable time, send them packing.
- Learn to recognize when your defensive mechanisms come up. Realize
that you are probably not really being attacked.
- When you catch yourself feeling defensive, dont react so quickly.
- Learn how to listen when someone asks a question or makes a suggestion.
- Ask people to re-state their question/comment/suggestion.
- Try to understand what others are saying by repeating back what you think
- You may want to ask for more time to respond, then get back to them. This
will give you time to work with the question/comment/suggestion without the pressure of
being on the spot.
- DO consider that other people have good ideas that are just as
valid as yours.
- Take courses or workshops in listening skills and team-building.
- Find someone who can help you work on this negative aspect of yourself
� a good friend, coworker, teacher or counselor.
- If it is someone that you interact with regularly, ask them to let you
know when you are being a jerk and call your attention to what you are doing.
That will help you learn to see what situations and events trigger your
- Recognize that changing learned patterns of insecurity and defensiveness
may take years of work.
- Don't give up on yourself.
- Learn to understand your own personality and your unique strengths and
- The effort to improve your ability to get along with others will be
rewarded as you find more career opportunities open up for you.
Books - Disclosure:
We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.
- Speaking Your Mind in 101 Difficult
Situations. Don Gabor,
. Published by
Fireside (a division of Simon & Schuster), 1994.
- The Gentle Art of Verbal Self�Defense. Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D.
(Dr. Elgin has a series of books on this subject) John Wiley & Sons; (March 1997)
- Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self�Defense.
Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 605 Third
Avenue, New York, NY 10158�0012. 1993. Suzette Elgin has
written several books on communication. ISBN: 0471580163
- Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People - electronic book by Dr. Mark
This page is http://www.itstime.com/mar99.htm
Page updated: October 16, 2023