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Difficult Communication Styles

Expecting the Best from Difficult People

Why do average workers become exceptional when they work with one boss, but remain average when they work with a different boss? If you were to ask an exceptional worker this question, he’d probably reply that his boss expects the best from him. And if you were to ask an average worker this question, he’d probably tell you that his boss doesn’t expect him to do anything more than what he’s paid to do.

The concept is the same when you’re dealing with difficult people in the workplace. Expect the worst from them, and they won’t disappoint. Expect the best, and you’ll get more. To expect the best, you must erase those old, negative expectations you have about the difficult people in your life. The following methods will help you get the best from a difficult person at work.

1. Assume the person is not trying to be difficult

One method for expecting the best from a difficult person at work is to assume he doesn’t know he’s being difficult. In the absence of full evidence, try to assume the best of this person.

2. Attribute the desired behavior

Another method for getting the best from a difficult person at work is to attribute the desired behavior to the difficult person, even if the person isn’t displaying that behavior at the time. 

For example, attribute behaviors such as being evenhanded, fair-minded, and understanding to the person. This may encourage the person to then exhibit those behaviors, because if the person doesn’t, he or she would risk not living up to your advance praise.

3. Reinforce positive behavior

The third method is to reinforce the positive behavior you attributed to the difficult person. For example, when the individual acts in an evenhanded and fair-minded manner in the future, you should reinforce that behavior.

Difficult people sometimes need to see their positive characteristics through the eyes of others before they can find the courage to change. You’re assuming the best when you say you aren’t sure that he knows he’s a difficult person. 

When you thank him for being patient, you’re attributing to him the behavior you’d like to see him demonstrate. When he does demonstrate that behavior, you should reinforce it by drawing attention to it. Remember to expect the best from difficult people, and in response, they just might try to deliver their best.


business career entrepreneur success

Coping with Difficult People

Strategies for Coping with Difficult People

How often, after losing an exchange with a difficult person, have you slapped yourself on the forehead and thought, “Why didn’t I handle that better?” 

Brain freeze, a slang expression for the inability to cope spontaneously, is a common problem when dealing with difficult people who seem to have a knack for triggering automatic defensive behaviors. The best way to handle brain freeze is to plan ahead for coping with these difficult people.

Your plan should take into consideration the type of person you’ll be dealing with, the typical behaviors the person will exhibit, and the actual coping steps to be used. 

Also, you should get input from others who aren’t part of the problem, because they might have insights you haven’t thought of. Then you should formulate your plan, review your plan with an objective person, and practice, practice, practice.

1. Formulate your plan

The first strategy, formulate your plan, comprises four steps:

The first step is to write down the actions and behaviors the difficult person displays. Does the person get angry easily? Does he shout? Is he aggressive? Is he obsessed with having power?

The second step is to write down how you’ve responded to the difficult person’s behaviors in the past. Did you get angry? Did you shout? Did you quietly withdraw? Did you become sarcastic?

The third step of formulating a plan is to evaluate your notes. Which of your responses, if any, seemed to improve your interaction with the difficult person? Which responses seemed to aggravate the situation?

The fourth step of formulating your strategy is to determine a course of action. Jot down everything that pops into your head. Your initial ideas don’t have to be realistic, or even serious. Just get them all on paper. When you’re done writing, examine the ideas until you find one you think is viable.

Write down your new plan and the date by which you’ll carry it out. Committing to a definite date takes your plan out of the realm of good intentions and makes it a practical reality.



How to Deal with a Difficult Employee

First, Determine If You’re a Difficult Person

Do you find that you’re the only one who has problems with a particular person — someone who everyone else seems to get along with? Or have you noticed that you have very few, if any, friends at work? Has anyone at work told you you’re annoying? Are you reading this job aid because your boss told you to?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll have to consider that maybe you are the difficult person. It’s easy to blame conflicts on the other guy, but saying it’s the other person’s fault doesn’t necessarily make it so. Before you point your finger, you should take a look at yourself. Use the following strategies to determine if you’re the difficult person.

1. Evaluate your own actions and behaviors

Self-examination is always difficult, but it can be extremely worthwhile. Here are some of the areas in which you should evaluate yourself, and some points to keep in mind:

Ask yourself if you’re judgmental. Judging others is an easy way for you to feel superior. It also allows you to avoid examining yourself.

Has anyone ever told you that you never listen? When someone is speaking, do you interrupt, or do you change the subject and head off in another direction? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, quit talking and start listening.

How tolerant are you? If your viewpoint must be the only right one, you’re far too intolerant. People who are open to new ideas and different ways of doing things are generally happier and better liked than their counterparts.

A mature person thinks before he acts. Keep that e-mail one day before sending it, think about what you’re about to say before speaking in an angry tone, take deep breaths, count to 10, and consider your next move. You’ll reduce your stress level and the number of regrets you’ll have later. These aren’t the only areas in which you should evaluate yourself. However, they can provide a good starting point. Depending on your responses, you’ll find yourself asking additional questions that will help you clarify areas in which you’re difficult.



Dealing with a Difficult Boss

Have you ever said something like, “Life at work would be so much easier if I didn’t have to deal with Martha”? You obviously perceive Martha as a difficult person, but is she really?

Difficult people can be bosses or co-workers who intimidate or gossip about others. They might miss deadlines, blame their shortcomings on others, or complain about everything and everybody. Their behaviors result in lost time and talent as they often alienate others. Worst of all, they appear to have no idea that their behavior is perceived negatively.

The first step in dealing with this kind of person is to determine whether the individual is really a “difficult “ person or if the individual is just having an “off” day. To determine if someone is a difficult person, ask yourself or others the following three questions.

Does this individual have a history of being a difficult person?

Asking this question helps you determine if there was a time when the person didn’t act difficult. Check that out by getting a historical appraisal from others. Do they perceive the individual’s current behavior as a passing phase or something more prevalent?

Is the person reacting to a particular event?

This is a critical question to ask if the person doesn’t have a history of being difficult. Someone might be grieving over the death of a loved one or the breakup of a marriage. Or the individual might be disappointed about being passed over for promotion. Atypical behavior in these instances should be considered “normal” under the circumstances.