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spike bullet May 2009 - Expert Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People

We have met the enemy, and it is us ... (Pogo)
Strategies for dealing with difficult people
Resources (links, books, articles, the lighter side)

color bulletWe have met the enemy, and it is us ... (Pogo)  

My favorite Minister, Rev. Peggy Bassett, used to say, "The best thing you can do for poor people is not be one of them."  In todayís interesting times, Iíll take the liberty of adapting that to also say, "The best thing you can do for sick people is not be one of them."

The worldwide situation of economic challenges over the past few years and now interesting public health events means that we have to work together more closely than we ever have before.  We all need each other to survive.  And, we can harm each other much more quickly than we could when it took months to cross the country by foot or by wagon.  

We can no longer isolate ourselves and feel safe.  The world is no longer as it was when our grandparents grew up.  It is no longer the way it was when our parents grew up. In fact, itís not even the way it was when most of the people reading this article grew up.

Where do we go from here?  The answer is simply: Go forward, doing the very best we can every day ó doing what we can, where we can, when we can ó every single day in the best way we know how.

This month, we offer a guest article from Dr. Mark Lauderdale, about "Dealing with Difficult People" Ė one of the favorite topics of our readers.  We also suggest that each one of us may be considered "difficult" by someone else on a regular or not-so-regular basis.  That awareness is not an easy one for most people to deal with. 

The very best we can do every day is to be kinder, gentler, more compassionate and more forgiving of everyone else we encounter along the way ó to soften our own "critical self" or our "negative self" as much as we can.  The benefit to us  ó individually as well as collectively ó and to everyone else ó is better mental health, better physical health and a longer life span.

Happy, healthy people live longer.  And, they are much more productive in their working lives and more satisfied in their personal lives.  Thatís a fact.  The best thing we can do about "difficult people" is not be one of them!

I hope you will take an opportunity this month to help yourself and by doing that, help the rest of the world by being the very best you can be Ė keeping a positive attitude, helping others, listening to others, being as healthy as you can and being a role model where ever you are.  The world needs all the positive-ness we can get right now to counteract the underlying fears and the media hype that comes with any new "event" or "incident" that seems newsworthy.

Our wish for you: May you live long and prosper, and may you be blessed by many friends to help you make your way through life.

color bullet Expert Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People

by Mark Lauderdale MD FRCPC

Dealing with difficult people can seem like the LAST thing youíd ever want to do in your life Ö and yet, it doesnít have to be that way.

It IS possible to create a positive change in your relationship with another person, whether difficult or not.

The main problem is that the difficult person is behaving in some kind of socially inappropriate way ó harassing, bullying, controlling, backstabbing, gossiping, complaining, being rude, unmotivated, uncooperative, negative, etc, etc.

Of course, in a brief article such as this, itís impossible for me to tell you EXACTLY what to do about each kind of difficult behavior for each SPECIFIC situation.

However, there are a few general principles that are essential when dealing with difficult behavior of ANY kind.

1. Target the Specific Problem Behavior

Itís pointless trying to categorize difficult people into "difficult personality types."  No one is EVER going to fit ANY category perfectly.

Furthermore, you canít change someoneís basic personality, so why bother categorizing them in the first place!?

Itís much more useful to target the SPECIFIC behavior that is bothering you.  You will need to refrain from the temptation to see the person as "all bad" or "hopeless" in order to do this.

If a person is difficult because they criticize you a lot or because the volume of their voice is too loud when they talk to you or because they donít respond to your requests, then target these behaviors.

Be VERY specific Ö and decide that it is possible for them to learn how to behave differently!

2. Be Clear About Your Goal

This is where most people go wrong right off the bat!  Most people never even formulate an outcome goal Ö or they think of it in overly simple terms such as, "I want them to stop behaving that way!"

It works far better to take a few moments to become clear about the way you want things to be instead.  In other words, what behavior do you want the other person to be showing instead Ė providing helpful suggestions instead of criticism, talking in a softer more patient way instead of raising their voice, responding to your requests instead of ignoring you, collaborating instead of bullying and so on.

Now, youíve got something to shoot for Ė a tangible positive goal to create in your relationship. Furthermore, youíll KNOW when youíve achieved it.

Some people have been reluctant to set a goal like this.  They say, "I canít change someone."  Itís true that you cannot change someoneís basic personality and itís also true that you canít CONTROL another person.

ÖBut you CAN influence them.  And, you will stand the best chance of influencing them if you have a positive outcome in mind that will benefit them as well as you Ė a positive goal.   Examples of goals for dealing with difficult people.

3. Eliminate Your Negative Emotions

You cannot produce a positive change from a negative place.  I canít overestimate the importance of this step.

When you react to a personís difficult behavior out of anger, frustration, anxiety or fear, etc. you will ALWAYS do the wrong thing Ö automatically!

Itís the way our brains are built.  If you have negative feelings, you will do negative things Ö and you will just make things worse.

Youíll engage the other person in a fight or youíll give up on a fixable situation prematurely or youíll do something for which youíll suffer consequences later.

I have developed a personal empowerment method over the years that is very effective for transforming a personís negative emotional reactions and stress into a constructive positive emotional state when dealing with difficult people, but the basic concept isÖ

Change your anger, frustration, anxiety or any other negative emotion into positive feelings of strength, calmness and determination to make things better.  Learn more about using the Wellspring Method to deal with difficult people successfully

90% of human interaction is nonverbal.  That means that HOW you say something is more important than WHAT you say!

If your emotional state is positive, you will AUTOMATICALLY say it the right way.

4. Create a Learning Experience to Motivate the Other Person to Change

Assuming youíve done the previous steps adequately, youíre ready to sit down and brainstorm ways of influencing the behavior youíve targeted.

Most people try to shut it down the problem behavior right away.  Big Mistake!  The other person will just resist, so give up the idea of trying to stop it cold.

Instead, think about modifying it, influencing it.  Think of something you can consistently do or some way of changing the circumstances, so that the behavior becomes more of a problem for THEM.

And furthermore, that the escape from the nuisance or problem youíve created is through the desired behavior you want instead (your goal).

For example, every time the person criticizes you, you can calmly and in an educational way, remind them that criticism wonít get them what they want from you, but that helpful suggestions probably will.

Or, if a person raises their voice, you emphasize calmly yet firmly that you canít hear what theyíre trying to say when they talk so loud (and happily proceed with the conversation once they modify their volume).

Youíll have to be patient and persistent and create the nuisance every time they engage in the target behavior.

Over time, especially if you maintain a respectful positive attitude towards the person, even when they become annoyed with you and you clearly point to a resolution through the desired behavior, you will start to see the positive change you want.

You can find more details on using this and other approaches to influence the behavior of difficult people in my e-book, ďSecrets of Dealing with Difficult People.Ē

5. Reinforce the Positive Change

As soon as the other person starts to modify their behavior for the better, reinforce it.  Donít say negative things like, "You should have been doing this all along" or "Itís about time."

How hard would it be for YOU to change a bad habit?

Be glad to see even minor improvements and let them know that you are surprised and impressed that they were willing to make a change for you.

Without positive reinforcement, you risk returning to square one if the other person becomes disillusioned with you and resorts to their favorite old behavior pattern once again.

As you can probably imagine, Iíve spent years trying to help others manage their emotions constructively and Iíve learned a great deal about being effective with difficult people.

Iíve spent a lot of time observing and learning from experts (in medicine, in psychology and in business) who could handle difficult people beautifully and even make it look easy.

But Iíve also come across strategies along the way that were totally USELESS in the REAL world for dealing with people.

After working with people for over 20 years I realized that being successful with people does not come from having a bag of tricks or tips or techniques to use with "this type of person" or "that type of problem."

What resulted in me having great success in dealing with difficult people of all kinds was learning how to make a shift in my "inner reality" first Ö and THEN creating positive change from this new way of seeing things.

In my e-Book, "Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People," I go into detail teaching you this very special perspective and understanding.

I even describe a step-by-step process that I call ĎThe Wellspring Methodí that helps you shift out of your old way of thinking and into a new awareness and attitude that generates phenomenal results with people.

Itís like having x-ray vision while everyone else fumbles around in the dark!

I highly recommend that you read it.  It has tons of useful concepts that will help you approach people with confidence, know what to say and bring out the best in others to achieve the kind of satisfying workplace and successful relationships you want.

Source: Copyright © 2009 Wellspring Personal Effectiveness Inc. (Mark Lauderdale MD FRCPC). Article used by permission of the author.

  Internet Resources

book graphic  Books"Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People"   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter articles:
   February 2009 - Staying Inspired
   September 2007 - Crucial Conversations
   February 2008 - Dealing with "Problem" Employees
   March 1999 -- Dealing with Difficult People
   July 2000 - Dealing with Co-Workers We Don't Like
   September 2003 - Dealing with Difficult People (Working with Personality Dragons)
   June 1999 - Dealing with Personality Dragons
   July 2006 - Giving and Receiving Feedback
   April 2007: Tips for dealing with workplace jerks
   May 1999 - Respect in the Workplace 
   May 2003 -- Respectful Workplaces
   July 2005 - Bullying in the Workplace (Dealing with Difficult People)

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  


This exercise is based on the principles of shamanism and many different spiritual faiths.  

  1. Sit in a comfortable position where you will not be bothered.
  2. Imagine that you are in a beautiful place where you are safe.
  3. Bring to mind some incident where you felt hurt, disappointed or frustrated with someone else.  It can be large or small.
  4. Acknowledge that incident and imagine that you write it down. 
  5. Then, in your mind's eye, take the paper to a big bonfire and burn it, seeing it disappear completely.
  6. Imagine that you are thanking the person involved for helping you learn a valuable lesson.
  7. Forgive them for the incident and send them a big dose of compassion.  And, forgive yourself for any negative feelings you have held onto. 
  8. Move on to another incident until you feel complete.

You can do this exercise in a physical form by actually writing out what happened and burning the paper safely, knowing that it is completely gone.  When we hang on to old imagined hurts, our energy is stuck and we cannot move forward.  Letting go of the issue is a great way to gain more energy for yourself and to improve your mental health, which also will improve your physical health. 


About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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