Difficult People

by Suzanne Neville

Common questions

  1. What makes people difficult?
  2. Why do people react in a defensive way?
  3. What strategies can I use to handle anger or emotional outbursts?
  4. What if the difficult person is my boss?
  5. How do I give feedback when someone is behaving in a non-productive way?

 

1. What makes people difficult?

There may be a variety of factors involved. Most people are not consciously operating in difficult mode, but may be using a defence mechanism without being aware of the impact that it has on others.

People may be fearful about change, anxious about their ability to perform, angry about how they have been treated in the past, or feel undervalued for the contribution that they are making. These emotional reactions can often result in defensive behaviour which has a negative impact on others.

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2. Why do people react in a defensive way?

When we perceive a threat to our well-being or position, we respond in a defensive manner. This defensive response pattern can take many forms, but the overall effect is to prepare us to fight, freeze or flee the threatening situation in order to protect ourselves. Physically, emotionally and intellectually, we are in an aroused state that is concerned with self-protection and defending.

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3. What strategies can I use to handle anger or emotional outbursts?

The SAFE approach to handling difficult situations can be very effective in enabling you to stay calm and contain the emotion. The four stages are

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4. What if the difficult person is my boss?

A good place to start is to look for differences in behavioural styles. Does your boss operate at a faster or slower pace than you? Is he or she focused more on the task or the people? A key strategy here is to understand your own preferred behavioural style and that of your boss. If your boss’s preferred behavioural style is very different to your own, then it is useful to adapt your own behaviour to that of your boss.

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5. How do I give feedback when someone is behaving in a non-productive way?

Know what you want to achieve with the feedback. Ensure the feedback is about something the person can change. Be clear and specific, giving examples; be constructive, and ensure that the recipient of the feedback knows what you want them to do differently.

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