You know, this would be a great business if it weren’t for having to deal with people all the time… OK, so maybe I’ve exaggerated things a bit, but we’ve all certainly heard that saying before. Why does that sentiment ring true for so many folks? Obviously it’s because of all the people challenges we’re presented with in our business. Virtually every one of my clients over the years has brought up the subject of dealing with difficult people. There’s no escaping the fact that they come into everyone’s
lives at one time or another. Sometimes they come in the form of an unhappy or hard-to-get-along-with client, customer, or co-worker. Sometimes they’re a person we report to or someone who reports to us. And sometimes they’re just someone we happen to come in contact with like a store clerk. Whoever they are, they can cause anxiety, frustration, concern, or anger in us and can even cause us to become like them – someone difficult to deal with.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a difficult person is to avoid them altogether – give them wide berth. But often we don’t have that option. The difficult person is someone we simply have to deal with. Most people would say that in those situations, we have three options. These options are: 1) Try to change ourselves, 2) Try to change the other person, and 3) Resolve to tolerate the situation – basically decide to put up with them. I’d like to suggest that there’s a fourth, very effective option as well – perhaps the most effective of the four options. Let’s spend some time discussing these four options.

1) Try to Change Ourselves
Your first instinct might be, “Why should I be the one to change?” In fact quite often you’ll find that to be an appropriate response! Often we are not the catalyst for their behavior, but sometimes we are. If you’ve had people in your life who cause you to become difficult or obstinate, then doesn’t it stand to reason that you may be causing that same reaction in someone? It’s in situations like this that we have to examine our own behaviors and reflect on whether we’re the cause. Frequently however, we’re blind to our shortcomings. We don’t see what we don’t see. How do you find out whether you’re the cause of the other person’s difficult behavior? Option 4 holds the answer.

2) Try to Change the Other Person
In Option 1 our initial response was to ask, “Why should I be the one to change?” Our first reaction was one of justification. Basically saying, “I’m not the one with the problem…” Guess what happens when we try to change the other person? You got it. They have the same reaction we would have had. Everyone feels justified in their behavior. No one intends to behave arbitrarily or irrationally. We always have a reason for acting the way we do. Attempting to force the other person to change just
doesn’t work. Just ask any spouse! No one will change anything about themselves until and unless they choose to do so. Option 4 holds the answer.

3) Decide to Put Up with Them
“Tolerate it.” “Just deal with it.” The only thing that accepting things the way they are accomplishes is to postpone a confrontation. Although this course of action (or inaction) appears to avoid a confrontation, in fact what it does is eliminate any chance of dialogue and replaces it with a certain confrontation down the road. Even though this path is frequently taken, it has some far-reaching unhappy consequences.

4) Work to Understand Their Motivation
Option 4 is the key to success. This option is about being a leader and being an effective communicator. It’s about being compassionate and strong at the same time. It’s about being good for someone rather than being good to them. It’s about understanding rather than telling. This solution is about taking the time to understand the other person’s motivation for acting the way they do. If you’re effective at this, you’ll be able to either help them change their perspective on things.

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Written by Michael Beck, “Head Zookeeper” at , a marketing strategies website dedicated to getting more clients, making more money, and having more fun! Receive a FREE program on recruiting & prospecting success at:
Permission to reprint with full attribution. © 2008 Exceptional Leadership, Inc.