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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.