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Tools to Deal with a Difficult Person

A baby cries when he is hungry, a boss yells when he wants something right now, a teenager whines when she doesn’t get her way, and a customer rants when she has to wait. When a person does not get what they want, when they want it, they can quickly turn into a difficult person. We all have needs and when those needs are not met we yell, cry, whine and in other equally annoying ways become a difficult people. The number one reason we fail to deal with a difficult person and stop them from being difficult is we fail to recognize their need. We don’t look to find out the unmet need that made them difficult in the first place. To prevent the crying, whining, yelling and ranting from a difficult person at work and in your personal life, figure out what a person needs, and if you can, give it to them. Here are the four basic human needs and how you can meet them and prevent conflict without losing time, energy or your own temper.

Four Needs You Can Meet, Prevent or Ease the Pain Of a Difficult Person

Comfort Sometimes we just need to feel someone cares. When someone needs comforting, comfort him or her. Last Sunday someone broke into my mother’s retirement condominium. She got up in the morning to make her tea and toast and there was a drunken man, passed out cold on her couch. My mom was frightened. Two days later, one of my mother’s friends, who she had not talked to since the break-in, called my mother and asked her out to dinner. My mother was hurt, her friend didn’t talk about the break-in, nor did she mention why she hadn’t checked in with my mother for two days. My mother got very upset and told her friend she did not want to have dinner with her and why which led to an argument. What caused the argument and the rejected invitation? An unmet need. What need did the friend not meet? Comfort - My mother wanted her friend to say, "I am sorry this frightening event happened" and along with that, to visit her and give her a hug. However, her friend for whatever reason had not called her in two days and when she did she didn’t mention the break-in. My mother simply wanted to be comforted and given attention and her friend did not meet that basic need.

Prevent conflict by noticing when someone needs comforting. Offer them comforting phrases like, "I am so sorry that happened." "That must have been difficult." "That sounds like it was hard on you; I am so sorry." "That sounds like it was hard." There are so many people under stress right now and so much potential for conflict. Sometimes we don’t know what to say when someone is distressed so we say nothing. Know that saying a few sincere kind words can help. Even saying, "I don’t know what words to say to comfort you, but know I want to offer whatever comfort I can." Choose a comforting phrase from those above that may help someone you know and say it out loud right now so you can remember it.

Admiration Sometimes people act out to get your negative attention when they are not getting your positive attention. I had a female participant, Sarah, in my "Managers and Interpersonal Skills" program. She said she didn’t know why she was sent to my workshop. She realized in the workshop that her old boss had been a really good manager and had noticed when she did well on her projects and gave her timely praise. But she had been promoted and now she was a manager with no direct boss and she was trying, in all the wrong ways, to get attention. She was wearing extremely short skirts and see-through, low-cut tops and telling lots of off color jokes to the guys in her plant. In her previous job, her ego was stroked, so she didn’t need to dress provocatively or tell jokes. In her new job she was getting attention for her attire and jokes but her female employees were rebelling, her male employees were losing respect for her and she was certainly not being acknowledged positively for her work. She was missing constructive admiration and it was causing her to be difficult.

Do you know someone being bad to get attention? In Sarah’s case, she was exploring her needs that made HER the difficult person. She knew what behaviors she needed to stop, but she needed to find other people to give her positive feedback. I coached her to work on her new job assignments and let others know of her successes and even to join a professional association to get admiration for doing the right thing.

If you know someone like Sarah you can prevent this kind of difficult situation from occurring. If someone is showing off something, a project, a bit of knowledge on a topic, a dress, a newly mowed lawn, prevent conflict by admiring it. OK, in my example you should not admire Sarah’s low-cut blouses or short skirts. That would lead to a need for a very different article. In my example, it is obvious the higher up should have either trained her that she would not be getting that kind of attention or they should have noticed she was seeking negative attention because she was not getting positive reinforcement. When they saw her dressing and acting provocatively they should have not admonished her but addressed her needs and talked to her about what she needed to do to get the right kind of attention.

Think about the difficult people you have or had in your life. How many of them may have just needed positive attention. It’s simple to find what people do well and give them honest admiration phrases like "I admire the way you handled that customer."  "I think you did a great job on analyzing the costs for our project."  "Your warmth and care made me feel so comfortable staying in your home." "That was an insightful solution." "I appreciate how hard you worked on that project." "I admire the care you put into that work." Look at those phrases and choose one to give in the next few hours.

Agreement – One of my vendors called me and said that American Express told them my card had been cancelled. Of course, I freaked out and called American Express. I was really upset and all the call center person would say was that they were checking on it and to please hold.  I said several times, "Can you look right away to agree with me that we have paid all our bills in full and on time?" "Can you just agree that it is not something we have done?" After twenty minutes, they told me it was a "system error." However, I had to ask several more times, if it was anything my office had done until they finally said, "Yes you are right it was not anything you did." Sometimes you want someone to be real with you and understand you and just plain say they agree with you. Don’t fake it, but if you agree, it is ok to say so. It prevents conflict. It’s actually amazing how many marriages are saved each year by someone saying, "You're right honey, I am sorry."

(By the way the Amex person also did not comfort me by saying, "Oh my goodness I am so sorry." Which even if it is scripted in the call center script makes me feel better.)
Helpful agreement phrases are, "Yes, you are right about that." "I agree that would be upsetting to anyone." "I know that this is stressful." "I would feel the same way." "I agree with you."

Inclusion People need to feel accepted and part of the group whether that is by inviting them to an activity or including them in the conversation at a meeting by acknowledging their comments. I have a client that is the Office Manager for her husband’s dental practice. She goes out of her way to do kind things for the staff, everything from giving them Valentine presents, picking up coffee for them, rewarding them with extensive vacations and enormous year-end bonuses. She called me one day very upset and crying over a conflict with the all-female staff. One of the staff members was having a baby and another staff member planned an office baby shower for her and did not invite my client, the Office Manager! This gaff created an enormous rift between my client and the staff all because the staff had not recognized the importance of the need for inclusion. Perhaps they had recognized it and chose not to give it which would be even sadder for all those involved in the conflict. So many times conflict can be avoided by making sure someone does not feel like an outsider. Be awake and aware to those who need to feel included and invite them in.

I had another client, Pam, who had a problem with a new employee, Bianca. She had befriended Bianca, but now her new employee was always hanging out in her office at lunchtime and then at the end of the day on Fridays asking question after question about work. She wouldn’t leave the office which meant that Pam couldn't either. It irritated Pam that Bianca seemed to wait until the worst time to ask questions and that sometimes the questions seemed so inane. As Pam tells it, "I am standing there ready to leave, with my coat on and purse on my shoulder, and my toes pointed towards the door. I am giving her all the leave taking nonverbal cues I can think of, but she doesn’t get it." Pam had become so frustrated that she was yelling as she talked about Bianca in her coaching session and was ready to "‚Ķhave it out with Bianca."

I asked Pam, "What needs is Bianca showing?" Pam thought for a moment and then actually hit her head with her palm and said, "Duh, inclusion. Bianca knows I go out with my girlfriends for lunch a couple times a week and another group of friends on Friday. She has only been in Atlanta two months and doesn’t know anyone." I asked Pam how she would feel about inviting her and she said, "It’s a fun group of women at lunch and the group of friends I go out with on Friday is pretty big and they’re very nice, so I wouldn’t feel I had to be responsible or worry or take care of Bianca all night. Pam later emailed and reported that Bianca does not bother her during the day anymore. "I can’t believe I thought Bianca was clueless and all she really needed was an inclusion."

Inclusion phrases are, "Would you like to join us." "What are your thoughts about this issue?" "What’s your idea or opinion about the project?" "What do you think?" "Come in and sit with us."

Do something wild today to prevent conflict. Right now think of people in your life who you have conflict with or have the potential to have conflict with. What do they need? Do they need comfort? Can you admire them? Can you create a specific piece of praise for something they have done and say it out loud to them? Can you agree with them? Can you include them?  Think of what they need and if you can give it to them from your heart do so. And in doing that know you are doing your part to prevent and reduce conflict, and of course create world peace. Ok, maybe not world peace but perhaps a peaceful day. That would be nice wouldn’t it?

Dealing with Difficult People and the Conflict Cure program description link: