The Art of Dealing with Difficult People!

By Kirk Wilkinson

happiness factor

Until a few years ago I considered myself an expert at FDP. FDP stands for Finding Difficult People. I must have been an expert because no matter where I was, at the store, in church, at work or at home I would find at least one person that would make my life difficult. In my immaturity I would often complain about that person behind their back and do my best to avoid them. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that difficult people reflect more about me than about them and that they are indeed our greatest teachers. Often times we find people difficult as they expose our character flaws, imperfections and weaknesses or things we despise about ourselves. If we become curious about what they are teaching us we can alter our view of them to be less negative.

One thing to always consider is that you cannot change anyone but yourself so when it comes to dealing with difficult people I recommend to my clients this approach: Adjust – Approach – Avoid. I call this the Three A’s of Dealing with Difficult People.  Too often we jump into avoidance mode to deal with the people who are difficult or we immediately try to confront them which can sometimes make matters worse.  I suggest a more emotionally generous approach by adjusting your reaction first, and then approach them if you need to and then as a last resort, avoid them.

Using the Adjust, Approach, Avoid method allows you to address the key elements in any difficult encounter:

  • The facts – what happened or what is happening
  • Feelings – how you felt before, during and after the encounter
  • Needs – Your unmet needs as well as the unmet needs (such as validation, respect, attention) of the other person.

When you stay at the fact level you are likely to get caught up in a debate over who is right or who said what to whom. Yet, the two other aspects are more important – the feelings involved and the unmet needs.

The Adjust, Approach, Avoid method is usually covered in a 1 hour to half-day seminar but let me make a few suggestions here:

Adjust: One recommendation is to adjust your thinking and express your willingness to consider the other person may be right or that they have a valid point of view. This helps diffuse the situation. This does not mean you agree, it simply means you are willing to consider what they have to say.

Approach: There are 6 steps to approach:

1. Prepare – consider their story, their point of view

2. Intent – what is it you hope to accomplish by approaching them? If you intent is to punish chances are it won’t go so well.

3. Start in the third story – start by taking the view of a keen observer

4. Invite – ask them to help you figure it out

5. Explore – ask for clarification on their story, then share your story

6. Problem solving – work together to resolve the issue

Avoid: When Adjust and Approach do not work then you may need to withdraw from encounters with this person but consider this a last resort.

We all have difficult people in our life. They can be a loved one, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, supervisor or neighbor. To the degree we can learn to be emotionally generous we will reduce the negative emotions and increase our positive emotions. By becoming emotionally generous I have fewer confrontations and seem to have lost my knack for FDP – Finding Difficult People! If you need personal help in dealing with a difficult person please let me help.