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Dealing with

Difficult People

Understanding Difficult
Types of Difficult
Do’s and Don’ts of Managing
Difficult Interactions with
Types of Difficult
General Tips and Strategies

Understanding Difficult
 Difficult people are usually a result of
conflicting personalities not because
of intentional behaviors
 If you notice someone is more difficult
around you than others, it may be
because your personalities clash
 It’s important to remember we can all
be difficult whether we mean to or not
 NO FEAR! I’ll give you some tips to
help you deal…
“Eventually we will find (mostly
in retrospect, of course) that
we can be very grateful to
those people who have made
life most difficult for us.”
 Ayya Khema
Source: When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West
Recognizing Difficult People
 Some key characteristics
◦ They’re never satisfied
 “I pay to go here, I should get to do whatever I
 “I pay my student activity fee! Do this program
◦ They don’t communicate easily with
 “Because I said so.”
◦ They can be argumentative and
◦ They often use their power to obstruct
 “Do you know who my father is?”
 “I will sue you.”
“Resistance is thought
transformed into feeling.
Change the thought that
creates the resistance,
and there is no more

-Robert Conklin
Recognizing Difficult People
 "Coping With Difficult People" by Robert M. Bramson, Ph.D.
identifies seven different types of difficult people/behavior:
◦ The “Sherman Tank”
◦ The “Exploder”
◦ The “Complainer”
◦ The “Clam”
◦ The “Wet Blanket”
◦ The “Know-It-All”
◦ The “Staller”

 Let’s go over the characteristics of these people so you can
identify their behaviors, then we’ll discuss the do’s and don’ts
specifically for those people/behaviors!
The “Sherman Tank”
 Always on the
 Abusive
 Intimidating
 Overpowering
 Always right
 Lack of caring and
respect for others
Do’s and Don’ts
 Don’t worry about being
polite; Just get your point
across any way you can
 Don’t argue with what they
 Don’t try to cut them down
 Do maintain eye contact
 Do state your own opinions
and thoughts forcefully
without apology
 Do be ready for negotiation

The “Exploder”
 Temper tantrum
 Raging outbursts
that are out of
 Shout, throw
things, and often
say regrettable
 Behavior result of
feeling threatened
and cannot cope
with the situation
Do’s and Don’ts
 Do give them time to
wind down
 Do switch to a problem-
solving mode of
 Do use active listening
skills to show that you
take their concerns
 Don’t allow for them to
maintain behavior in a
public area (Move to a
more private area to
calm down)
 Don’t initially force them
to calm down, let them
try to gain self control on
their own

The “Complainer”
 Finds fault with
 Hold idea that someone
should be doing
something about their
 Will not engage in
productive problem
solving discussion
 Often feel powerless to
change the situations
that they complain about
 Like to feel free from
responsibility with a
Do’s and Don’ts
 Do listen attentively to
their complaints
 Do show them you hear
them by using
paraphrasing or
 Do state the facts
without comment
 Do ask the complainer
“How do you want this
discussion to end?’
 Don’t agree or
apologize about their
 Don’t allow a
reaccusation pattern
The “Clam”
 Silent
 Just “yes” and “no”
 Hard to open us
 Maintain stance
 Easily mask fear
and anger
 Refuse to
 Won’t effectively
Do’s and Don’ts
 Do ask open ended
 Do wait for a response
 Do be patient and plan
to spend extra time with
 Do comment on what is
happening during
interaction and
 Don’t break silence
while waiting for a
 Don’t hurry conversation
along by filling up
conversation with your
own talk and chatter
The “Wet Blanket”
 Responds to
anything with a
quick and negative
 Has the “it won’t
work, don’t bother”
 Feel as though
everything is out of
their control
 Bitter about life
 Negative and
Do’s and Don’ts
 Do know your own
tendencies of pessimism
 Do be optimistic and
realistic in interaction
 Do consider possible
negative outcomes of
the problem
 Do be prepared to take
action on your own
 Don’t argue them out of
their pessimism
 Don’t offer solutions
until the problem has
been thoroughly
The “Know-It All”
 “Expert” on all
 Feel others are
stupid or
 Often react to
others’ knowledge
with anger,
withdrawal, or
 Likes control of
Do’s and Don’ts
 Do be prepared and
have all information
 Do listen carefully and
paraphrase main points
 Do be tentative in
 Do use questions to
raise problems
 Don’t act like a Know-It-
All back
 Don’t over-generalize
and be as specific as
The “Staller”
 Indecisive
 Lack follow-through
 Leave others to do
 Undependable
 Typical response is
no response
 Cannot make up
their minds
Do’s and Don’ts
 Do be open to listening
to conflicts and
difficulties Stallers have
in making choices and
 Do listen for indirect
cues for underlying
 Do use problem solving
 Do concentrate on facts
 Do support any decision
making the Staller can
 Don’t fully depend on a
Staller to get something
General Tips and Strategies
Be proactive
oHave a plan
oPrepare for worst possible situation
oLook and sound like you are listening-
Maintain eye contact, nod your head and look
oIf the other person senses that you care and
that you’re interested, they’re likely to become
more reasonable

General Tips and Strategies
Choose Words Carefully
oThere are certain “Trigger Words” that can
cause people to become more difficult
especially in emotionally charged situations.
oThese “Trigger Words” include:
o“Calm Down!”
o“You have to…”
o“You can’t…”

General Tips and Strategies
o This has to be a genuine response or the
person will feel patronize
o The basic message is “I understand that
you feel ___.”
o Empathy isn’t an agreement but
o Don’t use “I’m sorry.” It is overused. Use
“I apologize.” if you are going to be
General Tips and Strategies
Don’t overpromise or make threats
that you cannot keep
• In difficult situations we are often tempted
to make promises that are difficult to
keep. Be honest.
• If you add fuel to the fire (threats), the
person will become more angry and more
• You will lose credibility if you cannot keep
promises or follow through with the

Giving Constructive Feedback
Take an honest look at where you're coming from. If there's some anger or
resentment toward the team member, then you're probably not the best person
to offer them advice.

Start and end with a compliment. Find something good to say about your
team member, this will help him or her take in your advice. At the end of the
conversation, it will help your team member to feel that they aren't a failure or
that you're not angry.

Listen to your own voice. The tone of your voice can communicate as much
(if not more) than the words you choose. If there is an edge to your voice it will
be harder for your team member to take in your request.

Eye contact is important It helps both of you stay focused and it
communicates sincerity. It will also help you stay on topic. If you're working on
the computer or busy with something, stop what you're doing and look at the
person you're speaking to.

Choose the best time and place. Never give criticism in public, in front of
another person, or when you or your team member may be too tired or hungry
to deal with it appropriately. If you're physically uncomfortable you may not be
in the best frame of mind to talk about a difficult subject.

Do your best to avoid hurting your anyone's feelings. Use a softened
start-up followed by a gentle suggestion. For example you could say, "I really
like the way to talk to your supervisor, you would get a better response from
your team members if you spoke to them in the same way.

Talk about the behavior not the person. Feedback is not about insulting
someone's behavior, it's about telling him or her how to be better. For
example, you would never say to a child, "You are a mistake." Instead you
would say, "You made a mistake."

Use gentle humor if possible. If you can deliver criticism in a light-
hearted manner, it will be received in a much more positive way.
Humor doesn't diminish the seriousness of the feedback you are
giving, it actually helps the person receiving the direction to open up
and take it in.

Work with your team member to improve the situation. This will
help him or her to make the appropriate adjustments sooner rather
than later. It will also strengthen your bond as a team. Making
changes is easier if you have someone supporting you.

Don't harp. Once you have asked for what you need from your team
member, let it go. If you have to ask someone to do something four
times, I can promise you that the person in question has heard what
you have to say. If you've reached an agreement or agreed to
disagree, let it go and move on, holding a grudge is a waste of time.

Receiving Constructive Feedback
1. Recognize the value of constructive criticism. Such criticism
can improve relationships and productivity.

2. Engage in perspective taking or role reversal. Try to
understand the perspective of the person offering criticism.

3. Acknowledge criticism that focuses on your behavior. Attempt
to transform criticism that seems directed at your "person" to
specific behavioral issues.

4. Listen actively. Even though criticism may hurt, seek to
understand accurately the criticism being presented.
a. Paraphrase what the other is saying.
b. Ask questions to increase understanding.
c. Check out nonverbal displays (check your perceptions).

5. Work hard to avoid becoming defensive. Resist any tendency
to want to dismiss criticism or retaliate.

6. Welcome criticism; use the criticism appropriate to improve.

7. Maintain your interpersonal power and authority to make your
own decisions. Criticism, when directed at one's "person," may
weaken one's resolve. Focus the other's criticism on your
actions. Seek ownership of solutions.

8. Seek constructive changes to the behavior that prompted the

9. Insist on valid criticism. Valid criticism:
a. addresses behaviors.
b. is timely.
c. is specific.

10. Communicate clearly how you feel and think about the
criticism and receiving criticism. Use "I" messages.

Situation 1:
You are in a group for a class project and one of your
group members is not doing ANY of the work and has
failed to hand in their portion of the assignment.

Meanwhile, there is another group member who is being
very controlling and has taken it upon themselves to do
all of the project and to edit the work you’ve handed in.

As a group member who doesn’t want to do others work
but wants to contribute to the group, how would you
approach these two people and give them constructive

Situation 2:
You are President of SUB and you are planning an event.
You have delegated job duties to each Eboard member
so that the event will be successful and it is not all on
one person. Although you’ve delegated tasks, you still
are controlling and micro-manage the event planning.
You take over on all decisions and leave the Eboard
feeling untrusted and that they can’t handle the tasks

You are the Vice President and Treasurer. You feel like
you could have handled the tasks and done a good job.
You feel like the President should have trusted you and
handled the situation better. Together, confront the
president, tell the president how you feel and give them
constructive feedback as to how to better handle these
types of situations.