Who is difficult for you to deal with? Your boss? Your spouse? Your parents or in-laws? An employee or coworker? It seems that everyone has at least one person who is a challenge and if that person plays an important role in your life the stress can be constant and costly!

Rather than let those people create stress and control the relationship with their difficult behavior, you can learn to handle them in new and effective ways. Several ideas in this article can help you change how you respond to these folks and how you communicate with them.

An important first step is to change how you think about the person. Rather than thinking of the person as being difficult, you will find that your perception of them will change if you think of them as just a normal or average person who has one or more behaviors that you find difficult to deal with. Please read that last sentence again and understand what it says! People are not problems — their behavior is the problem. The behavior that you find difficult to deal with might not be difficult for someone else.

Okay, the person is just another person – now, what is the behavior that you don’t like? This can be tough because most of us describe the person rather than the behavior. Don’t use labels such as “arrogant”, “abrasive”, “stupid”, etc. because those describe the whole person. Give examples of what the person does that you have labeled and you will be describing behavior. For example, if your boss impresses you as arrogant, a behavior might be his manner of speaking- referring to you as his “girl” or “old Bob” when talking to others. If you think of your boss as rude, the behavior may be interrupting you when she can see that you are discussing something with a coworker or a customer on the telephone.

The reason it is important to identify the specific behaviors that you find difficult to handle is that it will help you decide if you want to continue to be bothered by them and if you want to talk with the person about changing them. Sometimes people discover that after the specific behaviors have been identified and separated from the whole person, the behaviors don’t seem that annoying anymore. If you still find the behaviors to be unacceptable then you can take more assertive action.

You may also find it helpful to list the ways in which the other person’s behavior creates concrete and tangible effects upon you. How does the behavior cost you? Does it affect the quality of your work, your use of time, or how others perceive you? Is it affecting your health? Being able to explain to the other person how their behavior has an impact upon you may be important for convincing them to change the behavior.

How do you feel about these effects upon you? Are you concerned about the quality of your work, frustrated about the impact on your time, worried about how the situation may be affecting your health? Telling the other person how you feel may help communicate the seriousness of the situation and motivate them to change. People are not accustomed to others telling them their honest emotions and doing so can get their attention.

We have had people say to us, “I have already done this. I have talked with this person, told them how I feel about their behavior and explained why it is a problem and they just keep doing it!”. You may be thinking the same thing. Here is a very important point — it is not enough to just talk about this situation with the other person. You must get a commitment from them about changing their behavior!

How do you get this commitment? The best way is to ask directly for what you want. You can ask the other person to stop the behavior; you can ask them to use a different behavior; or, you can ask them to suggest a solution. This last alternative can be particularly effective because people are more likely to actually follow through and do something that they thought of themselves.

So, how does all of this sound when you think it through and put it into words? Here is how it might go:

“Val, may I speak with you a moment about something very important?”


“Frequently when I am talking with a coworker in my office or with a customer on the telephone, you come into my office and start talking to me without acknowledging the other person or apologizing for the interruption and I feel embarrassed and angry when that happens.”

“Well, pardon me! When I come in it’s because there is a business reason that is more important than idle chitchat or some telephone conversation!”

“I know that you have a reason for coming in and I’m bringing this up because I am worried that the customer may get the impression that their call is not being treated as important. I am also concerned that the other people present may interpret the situation as a lack of respect for me which could affect my credibility and effectiveness with them. If they think you don’t respect me then they may not take me seriously when I am communicating about important issues.”

“Okay, I can see that. What do you want me to do about it?”

“What I had thought about was arranging some type of signal which we could use to let me know that you have an important need so I could ask the other person to wait. I’m open to your ideas about how to handle the situation. What do you suggest?”

“Well, I guess a signal would be a good idea. How about if I indicate with my fingers how many minutes I need?”

“That should work great. Do we have an agreement that we’ll do that from now on?”


“May I use the same signal to remind you if you forget?”


The discussion may not always be this short and it may not go so smoothly, but it certainly can. Because you have thought it through and identified the important ingredients of an assertive confrontation, you have a track to run on and you are less likely to become flustered or intimidated by the other’s response. It is important to remember not to push too hard because that will only result in the other person pushing back. Be patient, listen to their side, and look for ways to meet them halfway if you sense that they are unwilling to give you everything you want.

Sometimes, the other person just needs attention and they have learned to get attention with this behavior that you don’t like. If you don’t want to confront them about changing the behavior you can often get a change by making sure to give them attention at other times and for other behaviors. Make it a goal to give the person attention (a smile, a thank you, a touch, a moment of conversation) a certain number of times per day when they are not doing what you object to. You may be surprised by how quickly they become a more pleasant person to be around!

One of the most effective ways to give someone attention is to listen to them skillfully. The most effective way to prove to someone that you are really listening is to restate what you have heard. Here is a little formula you can practice with that [lets others know] you have heard and understood them.

• Paraphrase the content of their message (don’t say word for word what they said) • Acknowledge their feelings about the message (mad, sad, glad, scared) • Ask a checkout question at the end (Right? Did I hear you correctly?)

Your restatement proves that you understood them and that you have empathy (acknowledging feelings). If you get a “no” ask for clarification of what you missed. Typically, if you misunderstand the other person will simply correct you as soon as you ask the checkout question. Keep using the formula until you show that you understand. People love it! This is particularly important when the other person is having strong feelings and you want to help calm them. This approach works much better than telling them to calm down!

Here’s an example of how this might happen:

“You never do this the way I ask! Are you intentionally trying to make me angry?”

“So you’re telling me that I don’t do this the way you want and you’re upset because you think I may be doing it just to get you angry. Right?”

“Yes. I just don’t understand why you don’t follow my instructions.”

” Sounds like you’re confused about why I didn’t do this the way you specified. May I explain?”

“I wish you would.”

“The customer asked that I use a format which was closer to their system and I didn’t think to mention it to you. I hope it’s not a big problem.”

“Oh. Well, of course it’s not a problem if that’s what the customer wants.”

When people get evidence that they are being taken seriously and that you really understand, they quickly calm down and become much easier to deal with. It does take a lot of practice to learn to listen this way and to do it skillfully so we recommend that you practice every day for the next two or three weeks to help you develop some skill. Just use it during everyday conversations a few times each day and you will become comfortable with the technique and will be more likely to be able to use it when you really need it.

We wish you success using these ideas to help you handle those difficult behaviors of others around you! Our training programs are full of valuable and practical ideas, techniques and skills for improving your effectiveness with others. We hope to meet you in one of our programs and to help you learn more ways to improve your success!

Sam R. Lloyd, President
Tina Berthelot, Vice President
SuccessSystems, Inc.
“Training People To Excel With People”
P. O. Box 18208
Boulder, CO 80308
(303) 998-0248 Fax: (303) 998-0247

Web page: https://www.trainingforsuccess.com

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