Dealing with Difficult People

One of the biggest challenges in most of our day-to-day interactions is that we need to be able to get along with other people. An even bigger challenge is that we need to be able to get along with people who are very different from us – and as such we often view them as “difficult”. Two of the key areas where we are likely to differ from others – and then find them “difficult” to get along with are that of behavioral styles and core values.

A behavioral mismatch is when another person acts differently from the way you do. A values mismatch is when they care about different things than you do. Behavioral is what we do, values are why we do what we do.

It’s important as a first step to remember that much as we want to change others – we cannot do so. What we can do is the following:

1. Learn to recognize your own behavioral style, to recognize the behavioral style of the person you are interacting with, and – ideally – to match your own behavior to that person. When you match your behavior to the other person, it makes it easier for them to trust you and to understand you. This is a “mirroring” technique that makes another feel more comfortable with you.

2. You don’t have to agree, but learn to accept that some people have different values than your own and that you cannot change those values. Accept that while their values may seem wrong to you, they are not inherently wrong – they’re just different. Be willing to incorporate these different values into your decision making process.

3. While it may be the hardest step to take, drop your need to be right. Accept yourself just the way you are, and accept others just the way they are. When you stop putting pressure on someone to change, they will likely stop pushing back, and have an easier time listening to you.

4. Communicate clearly. Don’t assume the other person knows what you mean. You need to convey your message clearly, and then check to make sure the other person has understood. You should also formulate your message in a way that puts things in context for the listener, and makes them care about your message.

Learning how to deal with difficult people, or – better yet – realizing that they’re not necessarily difficult, and improving your communication with them, is a slow process. Take some time each day to become aware of how you interact with other people and how they, in return, interact with you. Make an effort to change that interaction according to the tools and tips outlined in this blog and in my book, “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior.”

Once you are willing to change the way you interact with others, you will start seeing changes in the way they respond to you. By taking the time and making the effort to acquire effective communication skills, you’re increasing your chances of working with, communicating with, and living with other people more effectively.