People can be difficult… and dealing effectively with people in business is crucial to your success.  When you learn how to identify and deal more effectively with people’s behavior in business you are way ahead of the game, and your career (and sanity) will benefit enormously.  These skills and benefits can be of great value in the following circumstances:

  • When applying for a new job
  • Asking for a promotion or a referral
  • Maintaining balance and equilibrium on the job
  • Gaining a new account
  • Succeeding in the merger, reorganization or acquisition of your company
  • Navigating through the political waters at work
  • Doing the maintenance on a difficult colleague or customer

Let’s begin by identifying some popular difficult personality types.

  1. The Hostile – This type includes:
    • The Bully – the boss or coworker or business contact who takes pleasure in running over you or throwing you under the bus. 
    • The Sniper – the person who says something nasty and pretends to be innocent.
    • The Exploder – Their favorite line is “Don’t make me mad,” so you are always on guard for an explosion.
  2. The Negative/Critical Complainer – Everything is always wrong, bad, awful, and miserable.  They are professional whiners.
  3. The Unresponsive – They are silent, non-communicative, unemotional, and distant.  It is impossible to tell what their position is on anything. 
  4. The Indecisive – Perpetually ambivalent, stalling,  uncommitted; they are afraid of making mistakes, being wrong, and being exposed.  
  5. The Judge/Calculator – “Let me analyze this,” remaining critical, pejorative, everything is slightly flawed and imperfect. 
  6. The Passive/Aggressive – Appearing compliant while sabotaging, undermining, and criticizing all the time. 
  7. The Professional Victim – Self pity, wallowing in “Ain’t it awful?”  “I’m so mistreated.”  “You can’t possibly understand what I’ve been through.”  “It isn’t fair!”
Sound familiar?  What do you do about these types when you have to work with them, answer to them, persuade them?   
Here are some effective strategies you can use:  (Remember that different types require different tools, and it is helpful if you can use many people tools in your tool box.)
  1. Keep a smile going, remain strong, impervious to the manipulations (works well on the Negative Complainers).
  2. Remove yourself (when possible) from the difficult person, its a frustration when they lack an audience (works on the Bully). 
  3. Validate their opinion before you counter with yours. They will be less difficult when they feel valued.
  4. Listen first.  Listening is the best way to get your point across.  As Dr. Stephen Covey says in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand, then be understood” (works on everyone, especially the Judge/Calculator). 
  5. Replace “yeah but” in your dialog with “on the other hand.”  This small change will calm down escalation of contests and conflicts.
  6. Ask them to help you understand.  People are less likely to be difficult when asked for help (works on the Indecisive and Unresponsive).
  7. Reinforce their value following a criticism.  People respond to what they heard last, therefore, they will be less defensive.
  8. Engage in three or more options.  People will be less contestual when there are multiple options available. 
  9. Replace “you should” with “you might” or “I encourage you to…”  People get very difficult when they hear the word “should.” 
  10. Expose their routine.  Announce your confusion with mixed messages from them (sometimes effective on Passive/Aggressive). 

Above all, maintain your power and your sense of humor.  People can only wreck your day with your consent.  Though certainly difficult people often appear to want you to enjoy their misery with them, keep in mind you can always allow them to enjoy their private party by themselves.  Remember the movie, “War Games?”  At the end of the movie, the computer concluded “the only way to win, is not to play.”  How true sometimes.

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