They are everywhere. They are on the interstate, in the line-up at your favorite coffee shop, at work, next door, and even related to you.
Difficult people are everywhere, and if your strategy is to avoid them, you’ll spend a lot of time alone at home.
Instead, we need a strategy to deal with them to solve a difficult situation.
Tyrone is a very important client who has a nasty habit of yelling at you when he is frustrated. He will yell when he can’t get your Executive on the phone even though he calls unexpectedly, yells when supply chain issues cause things to be delayed, and his overall tone is aggressive every time you speak to him. You’ve been very friendly and easy to work with, even explained that you aren’t trying to annoy him. You’ve mentioned to your Executive that Tyrone yells at you all the time, and although your Executive has said they have brought it up to Tyrone, nothing ever changes (although he did apologize once). Whenever the phone rings, and you see that he is on the other end of the line, you cringe and want the call to go to voice mail. You know that avoiding Tyrone will not make the situation any better.
This four-step strategy will give you an easy-to-follow guide to dealing with difficult people.
[ctt template=”3″ link=”A8hUS” via=”yes” ]This four-step strategy will give you an easy-to-follow guide to dealing with difficult people[/ctt]
- Identify their why; what do they “get” from their behavior. Every person does what they do for a reason. We yell because it gets attention, and we cry because many people are uncomfortable with tears and give us what we want. People talk for attention and complain for the same reason. We all do what we do for a reason. We get some payoff from our behavior.
When your difficult person is doing something you don’t like, you need to identify why they do whatever they are doing. Are they looking for attention? Do they have the desire to win, make you look bad, make others laugh, avoid work in the future, or control?
Identifying why they are doing what they are doing is important. What is their payoff? What do they get from doing “this”? Why is Tyrone yelling? What does he get from it?
Once you identify the why, I’m not suggesting you stop giving them their payoff. I’m simply asking you to understand why they are doing what they are doing.
Tyrone likely yells because it gets results, and you likely work harder to give him what he wants because of the yelling in hopes you can avoid it.
- Is their behavior innocent or intentional? Do you think they are being difficult because it works, or are they unaware that we consider this behavior unacceptable?
It is common to think that people are doing what they are doing to annoy us. They know they are being difficult and are acting this way deliberately.
[ctt template=”3″ link=”Q348c” via=”yes” ]It is common to think that difficult people are doing what they are doing to annoy us.[/ctt]
That is unlikely true. Most of the time, the other person does not see that their behavior is difficult. They do not see that what they are doing is annoying to others. They may be unconsciously saying and doing things without self-awareness.
You work with Jackie, and she is the type of coworker who moans incessantly about everything. It’s too hot; it’s too cold; it’s too wet, dry, white, brown, or green. You know what I mean, and her negativity is overwhelming for you.
You perceive her behavior as negative (read: difficult), which grates on your nerves. If you were to ask Jackie if she thought she was a negative person, she would probably deny it. She would see herself as making conversation and certainly not negative nor bothersome to you.
The way Jackie makes conversation is innocent behavior. She doesn’t see it as negative nor difficult, and she certainly isn’t being negative because she knows it bothers you.
Does Tyrone yell at you just to get on your nerves? While it feels like he is doing this deliberately (because it works), I’m willing to bet he doesn’t see it that way. Over his lifetime, he has unconsciously learned that escalating his behavior (volume and tone) works. You are not the only person he does this to. He isn’t doing it “on purpose” to annoy you. He is doing it because it works, and it works with others too. He isn’t likely aware he yells at others.
- Look in the mirror. How does the other person see your actions? Do they see you as the difficult one? Yes. Yes, they do. You are somehow “stopping” them from getting whatever they need, and they are reacting to you being the difficult person.
Tyrone sees you as difficult because you aren’t connecting him to your Executive on the phone. Tyrone probably assumes you are lying and that your Executive is available, but you won’t put him through to speak to them. Tyrone thinks that if you escalated supply chain issues high enough, he could get the products he needs. Tyrone thinks that you are a difficult person.
You don’t have to agree with the look in the mirror, and you likely won’t agree, but you have to see how they interpret your actions from their perspective.
You likely wouldn’t see your behavior as intentional either. Are you deliberately blocking Tyrone? Do you drown out Jackie’s negativity intentionally?
- Look for a win-win. Is there any way that that the both of you can get what you need?
Can Tyrone feel heard without yelling at you? Can Jackie make more positive conversation and still get the attention (payoff) she needs?
The answer is not always. This means you need to place boundaries on how you will respond to the situation.
Perhaps when Tyrone yells, you can calmly ask him not to yell at you. That doesn’t mean he will stop, but at least he is being made aware of when he has crossed your boundary. When Jackie complains, perhaps you can turn the subject to a more positive topic.
Dealing with difficult people takes a ton of energy. I know that some of you just laughed at my suggestions as they are certainly not that easy.
[ctt template=”3″ link=”a7d_U” via=”yes” ]Dealing with difficult people takes a ton of energy.[/ctt]
You must decide what boundaries you need to place. What part of the situation is unacceptable to you? When your difficult person crosses that boundary, you must be ready to respond. Decide in advance what you will do or say. When it happens, be consistent at least five times. After five attempts to change their behavior (five times telling Tyrone that yelling at you is not acceptable behavior or five times changing the subject to a more positive one with Jackie), you will notice they are either doubling down on their behavior (which means you need to try a different approach), or their behavior is starting to change (meaning keep going as this is working).
It takes a lot of energy to deal with difficult people. It takes a lot of consistency, and it takes a lot of time.
But it is worth it.