How to find a positive answer to negative behaviour

What to do when other people’s behaviour is bothering you?

What if someone annoys you, shows spiteful behaviour, is plainly vicious, or shows simply unacceptable office politics behaviour?

How to deal with these occasions in a way that solves the tension this causes you and show the right attitude in response? How to respond in a way you won’t regret?

We’ll show you one way to respond that will always leave you satisfied.

The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. (Viktor Frankl)

You can choose

We say you have a choice. You have a choice between two positions.

One position is to let what you experience dictate what you feel and consequently choose to do. This position means that the circumstances are the determining factor, not you.

The other position is that you consciously decide what the occasion means to you. Then you equally consciously choose how you want to act (note: want to act, not react) in these circumstances. You ask yourself: what are my values? How do I want to act?

If this seems like a conscious construction, you are right. It is a conscious construction. But it is one that will eventually give you the freedom to choose and determine how you want to act in any given circumstance in accordance with your values.

You have the choice to decide the meaning

We propose that not the action done to you has a fixed meaning, but that you decide what it means to you. Of course this doesn’t imply you should condone, excuse or ignore what happened. What happened is what happened. However, how you choose respond regulates the outcome.

Your interpretation (your choice of what it means) determines whether you will act in line with your own values, serving your goal, or on the other hand grant the other person all of the playing field and the choice of the rules. You have a choice how you respond. But it is necessary you consciously exercise that choice.

How do you choose?

Simply said: it is always better to feel good about yourself than bad about someone else.

In order to illustrate it is possible to choose to respond in line with your own purpose and values to even the most negative circumstances we point to the example of Victor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor.

The example of Viktor Frankl

Keep in mind we are seeking a sharp contrast in order to gain clarity and make our proposal doable. The sharp contrast comes from the example of someone who was made to endure great suffering, and yet found a way to find an adequate answer to these circumstances.

Frankl was brought to Auschwitz and survived. Viktor Frankl wrote the book Man’s search for Meaning about this and how he found personal meaning in the experience.[1]. While there, he noticed that notwithstanding the dire circumstances that: ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’

Frankl found that he still could experience the beauty of a sunrise or feel the love of someone sharing a bread crust and decided that: ‘Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.’ This is how you can respond, too, if you choose to do so.

What about you?

The power of such a stark contrast is the following. When someone in these indescribably horrible circumstances finds an adequate capacity to decide what those circumstances mean, we might be able to follow this example. There is freedom to be found in how you face aggression, power play or just meanness.

You have the power to decide the position you take when faced with a situation that causes you suffering.

One of the meanings of position is: attitude. And precisely your attitude is completely free for you to choose. It all starts with your choice to find what your answer is.

Do we say this is easy?

No, we do not say it’s easy. As we keep stressing: it’s a conscious choice. You have to be aware of what happens and consciously decide what you want to do. And we all know how easy that is…

However, we have found that talking about your attitude in life and in your work, towards yourself and with other people, how you want to respond to these and other circumstances is very helpful to gain clarity and a way of responding that is consistent with your values.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

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If you liked this blog, please have a look at A Magic Mirror to Improve your People Skills. This article shows you yet another way of dealing with difficult behaviour. It’s about Jung’s proposition that everyone else is a mirror of what we think about the world and ourselves.

[1] ( The quotes in the text are from the book Man’s Search for Meaning.)

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A magic mirror to improve your people skills

In this post we’ll show you a surprising way to improve your people skills, while also learning something about yourself.

Suppose you could ask a ‘magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?’

And what if you were told the truth, and you could use it to improve your self-image and become more adequate in your relations with other people?

You could, that is: if you accept Carl Jung’s[1] proposition. He proposes that when you look at what someone else’s attitude means to you, this usually reveals what you secretly think about your own attitude.

It is confrontational, but it may also be insightful to look into this mirror that other people can be for you. It teaches you something valuable about yourself, and helps you to add value to others.

How does this help you develop your people skills?

When you look into the ‘mirror’ of other people you like or approve of, there’s nothing to see that needs developing. Usually, your people skills work just fine when you deal with people you like, or whose attitude you approve of.

It’s usually more difficult and you need to pay attention to your people skills only when people have an attitude you don’t like or don’t approve of.

That’s exactly the moment you can use these people as a mirror. This enables you to ‘magically’ learn something about yourself, and also improve your skills in working with people with an attitude you don’t like. How?

We propose that you use Carl Jung’s idea to see what this says about yourself, turn this around, and give to other people what you need from them.

Let’s see how this would work in practice

Let’s say you experience some negativity in your dealings with other people. Their attitude may hurt you, annoy you or even make you angry. Perhaps there is even a valid reason to feel this way.

It’s fair to assume the major thing about these peoples’ attitude is that they don’t do something you think they should do. You miss something, something that would be the most natural thing for you to do in these circumstances.

Now a flattering magic mirror would tell you that it’s all due to the other persons’ character faults. Not yours, you are of course ‘the fairest one of all.’ It’s the other person whose attitude needs to change!

This doesn’t help us to explore our own involvement in the situation and take responsibility for adaptation and amelioration.

What you need is a magic mirror that tells you the truth, but also helps you to see a way to change that inspires you, fits in with who you are, and shows you a way to easy application. How would this work?

What is your response?

You look into the ‘mirror’ of the other person’s attitude. You notice you miss something. What should your response be? Tell the other person to change? That is of course what we are often tempted to do. But is that effective? Usually not, you have to admit.

An effective response has to be based on a straightforward recognition of the way the world actually is, and not on how you need the world to be. This should be at the core of your response.

People are the way they are, and they usually don’t change because you ask them to. But what would happen if you saw these people as a mirror of your own attitude? Then the following could happen.

Add yourself what you miss in other people’s attitude

What you miss in the attitude of others, Jung proposes, you didn’t add.

So what do you experience as a downside while dealing with other people? The answer will expose what you could and perhaps even should reconsider about your own attitude, approach, and actions towards other people.

Remember that in this blog we operate from the viewpoint that other people function as our mirror. In this regard, what you would like other people to do to you, could point you to what you could easily give to other people.

Let’s say you are a friendly person, who likes others to be friendly as well. When others aren’t friendly, our suggestion would be to respond in a friendly manner, with the care and consideration you think of as showing friendliness.

Use the ‘mirror’ to add value

You will notice, perhaps even during the interaction or soon after, that you have acted in line with who you are, in accordance with your values and often also serving your goal.

You have created value for yourself, but in the process you have also created value for the other person in a way that is important to you.

Only when you have done this first, does it make sense to ask ‘the magic mirror’ a question and get proper feedback.

People will perhaps not change their attitude immediately, but you will notice that you have changed your own attitude towards them. Sooner or later this will have its effect. You have learned something about yourself, and improved your people skills into the bargain.

A magic mirror that shows you the truth

Perhaps you will not always be ‘the fairest’ when you look into your magic mirror, and people will still not always show an attitude towards you that you like.

But at least you are true to who you are, what you value, and what you want. There can’t be any other way leading towards your goal.

Be who you are, it’s good enough to present to others. The chance is good other people will present themselves as they are towards you. Why? You were their mirror too. So present your true self.

© Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

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[1] Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist, founder of analytic psychology, who is best known today for his ideas about introversion and extraversion, the collective unconscious and synchronicity. Look at this Wikipedia article for more information: Carl Jung


How to deal with a difficult boss

difficult people 6 difficult boss

If you have a difficult boss, it makes your work and your life difficult as well. A difficult boss is bad for you, and bad for business. There’s only one way of dealing with a difficult boss: the difficulty will have to be talked about and resolved, in the interest of all and everything concerned.

 How to prepare for this talk, engage your difficult boss and propose a workable relationship is the subject of this article.

A rule of thumb in dealing with a difficult boss

  • All difficult people are people. Difficult bosses are people too.

As we described in an earlier blog, it is liberating to realize that all difficult people are people. People need to relate to other people, especially in a professional context. Just remember: difficult bosses are people too. You need to relate to them, but they also need to relate to you.

You do have to talk about it

If the difficulty is within the realm of work, there is only one sustainable option, seen from the goal of a successful work relation and a positive self-development focus on your life and career. There is no alternative for talk. No matter how difficult it may be, perhaps awkward, or even scary, you just have to tell the other person (your boss in this case) about the difficulty.

The perspective you choose makes the difference

Consider this: is your perspective accusatory, (something has wronged me, or even worse: you have wronged me), or is your perspective one of invitational and factual description, with the resolution as a possible outcome? It should, of course, be the latter.

The perspective of a workable resolution provides room to maneuver and to find out what is doable to start with a mutually beneficial change effort.

Constructive talk about the difficulty

When you do it right, talking about the difficulty you have with the other person and showing maturity is a way to make a career (and you’ll also feel much better about life). Remember this: most bosses (and most colleagues as well) appreciate it when someone does a rather hard thing such as telling them about a difficulty you experience with them, PROVIDED IT IS DONE IN A CONSTRUCTIVE WAY.


  • Be factual, not accusing.
  • Offer a constructive alternative that would work for both of you and serves the business goal.

How to prepare for your conversation with your boss

It is wise to allow for some preparation before you go to your boss. Design what you want to say. Keep it very short and very simple. Say what is on your mind and propose a way forward.

Taking the difficulty as a starting point, you want to work in the direction of an effortless interaction, while facilitating the business goal. To start with something that was difficult, the next step should be based on mutual understanding and on what both of you are willing to do.

  • Make some notes and explore your understanding and perception of the difficulty and what you are willing to do.
  • In preparation also assume the position of the difficult boss dealing with you.
  • Design an alternative that would work for both of you and serve the business goal. (It may be helpful here to define the work relation seen from the work goal you share. Ask yourself in what way the ‘difficulty’ is part of the realm of work and therefore partially a consequence of the formal roles and social and hierarchical ecology.)

Now that you have some clues about both sides and an alternative to offer, decide if you are up to it and then first talk it over with someone you trust.

Whatever you do, don’t make too much of it. Just remember: difficult bosses are people too, and therefore want and need to relate to other people.

N.B. In the preparation of the conversation with your boss, it is helpful to read the following article: Dealing with difficult people # 5 – Exploring a workable relationship.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

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Dealing with difficult people: Exploring a workable relationship

We all know difficult people. Most of us also know difficult people we have to work with. You’ll have to find a way to have a workable relationship with them. Let’s explore how to do that.

difficult people#5 - workable relationshipAll difficult people are people

A rule of thumb in dealing with difficult people is the realization that difficult people are people and therefore as a matter of course want to relate to others. Professionally, they even need to relate to others. What you need to make a difficult relation workable is finding an overlap that unites.

Before we continue, there is a critical caution: No one likes to be called difficult. Do you? Neither does anyone else; perhaps one would be able to consider complicated, but not difficult.

Exploring a workable relationship

So we’ll keep the indication ‘difficult’ between us and confidential and explore a strategy to create a workable relationship.

The assumption here is that people want and professionally need to relate to other people. You just have to find the handle you understand and are willing to use from both sides. How do you find that handle?

  • You’ll have to describe the ‘difficulty’ in a way that invites a dialogue aimed at improving the relation with mutual consent and active contribution to the change.

How to prepare a constructive dialogue leading to a workable relationship

In order to have a constructive dialogue you’ll have to prepare yourself in three areas:

  1. Describe how you experience the difficulty in a factual manner.
  2. Imagine the point of view of the difficult person.
  3. Look for the overlap between you that unites.

Together this will enable you to initiate a dialogue in a manner that makes it clear you’re looking for a workable relationship.

First determine for yourself what the difficulty means to you. Here are some examples:

  • It demands extensive skill and effort.
  • Hard to endure.
  • It is tough to comprehend or to accept.
  • Seems to be a huge problem to change.
  • It requires too much patience.
  • There are too many complex related factors involved.
  • It is too personal.
  • It is too offensive.

Second, check the words below for examples of what people generally experience as ‘difficult’. Attempt to describe  your experience with the difficulty as precisely as possible – for instance: the difficulty is tough, hard, painful etc.

Do not pursue too much accuracy or thoroughness. We just want to find a clue to work with.

Check this list for inspiration – these are words people use.

– Taxing
– Strenuous
– Tiring
– Problematic
– Arduous
– Burdensome
– Abstract
– Baffling
– Rigid
– Stubborn
– Fussy
– Vicious
– Unbending
– Uncooperative
– Domineering

Third, describe the difficulty from your point of view and how you experience it in a short sentence. Avoid explanation, just tell how it is for you, e.g.: I find it hard and it requires too much patience.

Fourth. Now you know something about the difficulty as experienced by you. Next you have to imagine what it’s like to be the other person and deal with you. It’s a bit of a bitter medicine to swallow, but it cures.

Reiterate step 1 to 3 above, while you assume the position of the difficult person dealing with you.

Fifth. As said, people don’t react positively when they are described as difficult. So next you’ll have to find other words to define the difficulty in a way that provides the necessary overlap that unites.

What is the common ground between you, and how can you use that to find a new way to relate to each other? Remember the aim: to find a way of describing the ‘difficulty’ in a way that invites a dialogue aimed at improving the relation with mutual consent and active contribution to the change.

Find words that make a workable relationship possible

All you need are some new words or a new meaning to add to the old ones that will enable you to start a dialogue. Keep in mind both points of view: your own experience, and that as you imagine the other person’s to be. Be clear about the difficulty you are experiencing, but be equally clear that you are willing to explore common ground to move forward.

Above all, don’t forget that all difficult people are people. They need a workable relationship with other people. (Which is, of course, why you shouldn’t call them difficult…).

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

Explore how to develop a workable relationship with difficult people in a prepared coaching conversation. We will go into how it works best for you, what would be eventual pitfalls and how to apply the knowledge gained to other difficult conversations. Dealing with difficult people is one of the soft skills we coach in.

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Dealing with difficult people by changing your point of view

This is the fourth in a series of tips on how to deal with difficult people. In this one, we write about how looking at difficult people from another point of view can make all the difference in how you perceive them, and consequently, how your relations improve.

Difficult people #4Have you ever had the experience of looking at someone and saying: ‘I would never have expected that of you?’ When you have, you’ve had your assumptions shaken. You were pleasantly surprised.

Shaking your assumptions about the people you find difficult can have a similar effect. You can quite easily find out there is much more than meets your eye to each difficult person. To understand and appreciate this enables you to identify and deal effectively with the difficulty, while improving the relation with the ‘difficult’ person.

Who do you see when you look at a difficult person?

When two people meet, it is actually six people that meet. There are:

  1. Two who think they know who they are.
  2. Two who think they know who the other person is.
  3. And there are Two who are who they really are.

This sounds like a riddle. Actually it’s a way to understand how our assumptions govern the way we judge others and ourselves. William James (the American psychologist and philosopher) came up with this idea to enable people to understand more of themselves and others.

What it means is that in our social interactions we act and interact based on unverified ideas about others and about ourselves. We act as if these ideas are true, while in fact they are mostly based on our assumptions.

Are these difficult people really what you think they are?

Our unverified ideas affect the meaning we give to the behavior and attitude of others. You think you ‘know’ who the other person is. You perceive the intentions, the mental or emotional state, the interests, values and so on of the other person from the point of view of this ‘knowledge’. But how much of this ‘knowledge’ is accurate?

On the other hand we also act as if we know ourselves. This usually means we do not take into account that it is our own point of view that colors the meaning and significance of what occurs and how we judge it.

Limited perception limits your options

Together (thinking you know the other and yourself) these two angles lead to labeling what happens and what it means to you. Most of the time, despite the fact that our perception is largely limited to our assumptions, this labeling seems to work. Our perception isn’t challenged by what happens.

Sometimes however, our labeling leads us into difficulty. This is the case for example when you label some people as ‘difficult’ people. Then the limited perception becomes limiting.

To increase your options of dealing with these ‘difficult’ people it helps to see that there are more ways of looking at the difficult person than from the point of view colored by your assumptions.

Right labeling vs. Mistaken labeling

For the sake of argument, we’re going to be very black and white about it and call all labeling that you do on assumptions about ‘difficult people’: Mistaken labeling.

You establish Right labeling on the other hand on the reality of really knowing (at least to a reasonable extent) yourself and the difficult person. You do this instead of just acting on the basis of your assumed knowledge.

Don’t think it takes too much of an effort. A little bit of exploration and challenging your assumptions goes a long way. Just by realizing that you probably meet with six people instead of just two allows for an alternative point of view.

An alternative to the label ‘Difficult’

So far the ‘difficulty’ you assumed the difficulty with the person in question was really true. Once you allow for the possibility that there is an alternative, you can explore that alternative in order to meet the real person. Other possibilities will appear as a matter of course.

This doesn’t imply that the behavior in question is right or that it’s not difficult – we don’t know that. It just doesn’t help to restrict something to the label ‘difficult’ and leave it at that.

To see clearly, it is necessary you see the situation with ‘cleansed lenses’. What we mean by that is: see it as with the mistaken labeling put aside for the moment. Then you can augment your observations. You do this by taking the trouble to investigate beyond your usual assumptions about the difficult person and about yourself. Realize there are six people meeting, and focus on the right two. You will not see a ‘difficult’ person anymore. Guaranteed.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career and Life coaching for professionals:

We offer you effective assistance in questioning and adjusting your assumptions about difficult people in a prepared coaching session. The result: you deal effectively and easily with people you used to find ‘difficult’. Dealing with difficult people is one of the soft skills we offer coaching in.

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How to deal with difficult people: The hidden drivers that make the relation difficult

This is the third in a series of tips on how to deal with difficult people. In this one, we write about two mostly hidden drivers that have a powerful influence on how we relate to and with other people: values and interests.

Uncover these hidden drivers and you know what to do in dealing with difficult people.

In dealing with difficult people there is usually something that doesn’t run smoothly between you. It can be behavior that grates on you, a habit that irks you, or opinions that run counter to what you find acceptable. Have you ever wondered why people behave in this way or voice the opinions they do?

Why people behave the way  they do

When you would, you’d find that the action is driven by something that remains largely implicit. These are the values and interests of the people involved. These drivers remain below the surface. But they determine what you perceive ‘above ground’ in behavior, attitude and opinions.

ValueValues are related to principles, standards, convictions and beliefs. The easiest way to access your own values is to ask yourself what in any given situation is of real ‘value’ or importance to you.

InterestsInterests are related to concerns and benefits, or e.g. sympathies or worries of someone. You have an interest in certain things or actions because it will bring you what you need or want. ‘What’s in it for me’ is a powerful example, of course, but so is ‘What does this mean to my family’.

Both of these important drivers of people’s actions remain largely hidden because we don’t usually share them or talk about them much. When the other person’s values and interests turn out to be different from your own, you probably find the other person difficult to deal with.

Hidden driver #1: Values

Most of the time the values remain below the surface, and are only implicitly present. This is so for you as the ‘observer’. But it is also true for the other person him- or herself. We do not hide our values on purpose. For most of us they are an inherent and ‘logical’ part of how we regard the world. So much so that we remain largely unaware that we need to share them to make the other person understand where we come from.

Yet values are a powerful driver. Sharing your own and discovering the values of the other person offers an opportunity for a dialogue people never refuse.

Prerequisite for this is that you are honest about your intention to deal with the difficulty in a mutual respectful and beneficial way. Also, it should be clear that you are willing to see your values as precisely that: your values.

Hidden driver #2: Interests

The other aspect driving the action is the interests of the people involved. (We are referring of course to ‘interests’ in the sense of the definition above, not what one might find interesting). Interests are usually more easily apparent than values. Still, they are not always openly shared or talked about. It is uncommon in our professional culture to be very explicit about our business or personal needs. Most of the time you infer them from the way someone behaves.

However, it is a common mistake to think that the other person’s interests are similar to our own. We then judge their behavior from our (unchecked) interpretation. When we do check, the situation is usually very different when seen from the point of view of the other.

Although not often openly discussed, interests of course do exist and drive the action. Precisely because of this it pays off to understand this driver and examine the position and the possible interests of the ‘difficult’ person. It explains a lot and will show you what to take into account in dealing with the difficulty.

How to bring it out in the open and benefit both

It is probably worth your while to think about how to present your difficulty as it relates to your values and interests, and as you perceive those of the other person. You could do the following in preparation:

  • Make it specific. Explain what you find difficult and why.
  • Clarify how this relates to your values.
  • Touch carefully on the interests that might be at stake.
  • Think about how a change in the difficulty will contribute to the benefit of the interests that are at stake.
  • If possible, connect both the values and the contribution to the interests of the other to your own position.
  • Picture how you both might benefit.

Preparation is essential

Preparation is essential for these conversations. A conversation about such a subject matter is experienced in general as risky. Most people really want to avoid such risks. Keep it informal, prevent any possibility of the other losing face, and be friendly.

Realize that all of the above is hard to do even for highly trained people. This has nothing to do with the application or execution, but with most people’s reluctance to cause a conflict. Especially in the professional environment people find it hard to be open and direct about their values and interests when they confront those of someone else whose values and interests are different.

On the other hand those who do take the step of engaging in these difficult conversations are seen as very professional, mature and capable of leadership. That makes sense, as you have shown to be capable of one of the hardest things to do: confronting difficult people in a friendly and persuasive way.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

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In a prepared coaching session we can help you uncover your own values and interests where necessary and prepare a meeting along the lines sketched above, with the aim of making the relation with difficult people easier. Dealing with difficult people is one of the soft skills we offer coaching in.

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Dealing with difficult people: Rules of behavior rule!

(This is the second in a series of tips on how to deal with difficult people. In this one, we aim to explain why some people are difficult… or at least, why you think so. And of course: how you can deal with difficult people in a better way.)rules of behavior

You find some people difficult. But what precisely do you find difficult? Usually, this has something to do with how someone behaves. When you could avoid these people, you would. But what if you encounter them regularly at work or as clients?

The aim here is to provide you with a focus to understand your own and the other person’s behavior (which you find difficult). We do this by focusing on your and the other person’s personal RULES OF BEHAVIOR. What does that bring you?

How you can benefit from knowing the rules of behavior

  • You would understand why the people you find difficult behave the way they do.
  • Understanding why you react to these people as being ‘difficult’ is the key to make the relation between you easier.

What do you think is meant?

To gain this understanding, it is necessary to begin with distinguishing two levels of interaction between you and other people; the content of the interaction, and the meaning you attach to it.

The content is easy. People say something and there is a meaning to it that is related to it; e.g. someone saying: “I need xyz.” That is a statement of fact.

But there is of course much more going on than just the content of: ‘I need xyz’. The content of the message is only one layer of meaning. The next level touches on the meaning you attach to what is being said.

The meaning you attach to it (e.g. an inference you make from the tone of voice in which it was being said what was really meant when someone says “I need xyz.”) is what will lead you to label something as difficult or not.

The meaning you attach to what is being said is partly a product of the rules you have about what is deemed acceptable behavior by you.

How Rules of Behavior rule our reactions

People have all kinds of ideas and rules about do’s and don’ts related to the process of interaction. These rules are often implicit and hardly conscious. We almost never challenge our own rules in a manner that allows for reflection, or the acceptance of differences of our rules with those of others. Our rules constitute what is ‘normal’ to us.

In fact, the only time most people notice they do have rules of behavior is when someone challenges these by applying their own, different rules of behavior.

Most of us find it very hard to imagine that these other rules of behavior are equally valid as our own. And that is when you start finding each other ‘difficult’.

How to handle these difficult people with their strange rules of behavior

Do you know what your rules and do’s and don’t are? Do you know them about the person you find difficult?

Here lies one way to handle the difficulty: finding out what your own rules of behavior are, and why someone else’s rules of behavior frustrate you so much that you think this other person is ‘difficult’.

To give you a hand in thinking about your rules of behavior, here are some examples of the categories rules of behavior usually fall in:

  • Attitude – Style – Behavior – Habits

(Fairly vague when you have to describe them, but usually very clear in your mind, especially when someone’s attitude, style, behavior or habits do not correspond to what falls within your rules. I’m sure you already have some annoying habits or attitudes in mind…)

  • Reactions – Sensibility (or not)

(Did you hear yourself describing someone as insensitive lately? Or quite the opposite: too emotional in his/her reactions?)

  • Opinions – Prejudices – Beliefs – Biases

(This category of course can be a minefield, in families as much as between people who work together.)

  • Language

(This is mostly about the kind of language you can easily relate to, and also about what you’d find appropriate or not. This includes tone of voice.)

  • Tempo

(Too slow, too fast, never answers, always pushing.)

  • Reliability

(What are your rules for reliability? When you say you are doing something, do you do so immediately, or when it is most convenient? And what about the person you find difficult?)

  • Humor

(Another minefield. When you share another person’s sense of humor, that’s wonderful. When you don’t, well…)

Of course, there are more categories, but in our experience most of the difficulties are either explicitly one of these or an amalgam of some of them.

Measure your rules against the rules of the difficult person

Try to formulate where your difficult people overstep the boundaries of your rules of behavior. Now try to imagine why someone would do that. What are his or her rules of behavior that allow them to behave in this way?

How does this help you?

Now of course, the most important thing: how does knowing this help you in dealing with your difficult people?

The first benefit of knowing your own rules of behavior is that you can make them explicit to others where this is necessary and appropriate.

The second benefit of knowing about rules of behavior is that this makes you realize that there are other, equally legitimate (even if you don’t think so) rules of behavior that govern what other people do or don’t do. You can explain what your own rules are and why they are important to you. It makes it possible to look for common ground, or at least to be aware of the each other’s sensibilities.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career and Life coaching for professionals: Here’s how a coaching session can help you with difficult people and their rules of behaviour. A prepared coaching conversation will give you the following:

• Insight in why you think some people are difficult to deal with, and:

Dealing with difficult people is one of the soft skills we offer coaching in.

    Contact us

Tips to deal with difficult people: Make it easy

How ‘making it easy’ can help you deal with the difficult people in your life.

Dealing with difficult people #1
So there is this person that you find it difficult to deal with. This person is probably someone you have to encounter on a fairly regular basis, e.g. at your work. You’ll most likely have an emotional reaction to this person, ranging from being annoyed to being angry, frustrated, or in some cases nervous. What to do? How to deal with this ‘difficult’ person?

What not to do

Ignoring the person you find difficult is usually not an option. Changing this person isn’t either. Assume for the moment that this difficult person is irreversibly difficult. It is not the best strategy in life to start out to change other people. Trying that usually tends to make things even more difficult than they already are. What remains is to deal productively with the situation.

Dealing productively with difficult people

Dealing productively with difficult people presupposes that you get an understanding first and foremost about your own reaction. Why do you find this person difficult?

Something in you is triggered by this person’s behavior. Usually people can name a whole range of behaviors that they think are ‘difficult’. These can range from ‘unsociable’ to ‘manipulative’, ‘incomprehensible’ to ‘argumentative’, ‘demanding’ to ‘never there when you need them’, and so on, and so forth. You definitely have your own description in your mind by now.

For most people, the people they find ‘difficult’ share a few characteristics. You seem to meet this sort of people over and over again in slightly different variations. But you always have the same reaction to them. They are ‘difficult’.

We are offering you a deceptively simple way to find out what triggers you in the other person, and how to deal with this.

Make it easy!

The answer to what triggers you in the other person’s behavior can be found easiest when you look at the meaning of ‘difficult’. The original meaning of difficult is that it is something that isn’t easy. Although this is of course very obvious, it does offer a way out.

First of all become aware of your perception of the other person. What do you see or notice, and next experience? Start from the original meaning of difficult, and find: What is not easy with this person?

What is not easy for you?

Notice that we aren’t asking you to look at what you find difficult (the words you’ve come up with earlier). We’re specifically asking you to look at what is Not Easy. We are doing this because it will give you a means to deal with it.

When for instance you describe a person’s behavior as ‘argumentative’, that doesn’t give you any way of influencing that behavior. However, when you are able to describe what makes this person’s argumentativeness Not Easy for you, it puts the ball in your court. You are the one who is finding it not easy to deal with. You can formulate (possibly with a little help) what you need to deal with what you find not easy.

We give you the most common features you might find Not Easy in general. You have to make them particular for your situation.

About this person: What is NOT:

  • Clear?
  • Effortless?
  • Uncomplicated?
  • Obvious?
  • Straightforward?
  • Painless?
  • Agreeable?

Now describe what you would need in order for it to be clear, effortless, uncomplicated etc.

What is not easy in the situation?

The next step that will give you more grip on dealing with the difficult person is to become aware of the situations where you usually find the other ‘difficult’. Once you have found some aspects that are ‘not easy’, examine in what particular way you are obliged to have an interaction with the person. Establish a specific recurrent situation where what you find difficult occurs and you experience your reaction to it. Analyze and describe what precisely you find Not Easy in the situation. Remember, the more specifically you are able to describe what you find not easy, the more influence you will have in transforming it into something you can deal with.

With your answer in mind of what you find Not Easy, observe the difficult person with the focus of Making it Easy.

  1. What can you do to influence the situation and make it easy?

(A suggestion: you could have a conversation with the difficult person about your newfound insights. It’s important that this conversation is two-sided. This means it is not you telling the other what they are doing wrong.)

  1. Where do you need help to be able to influence the situation and make it easy?

For this second point coaching can be very helpful. (See our offer below).

Put yourself in the shoes of the difficult person

In almost all cases when you perceive the interaction between you and the other as difficult, it is difficult for the other person as well. One clue to making it easy as opposed to difficult is to focus on maintaining the relation.

The first thing we often do when we perceive the other person as difficult is to withdraw ourselves from the relation. Now what could happen if you did not do that is that you could perhaps discover how to make things easy (or easier) for both of you.

Suppose for a moment this difficult person reacts in a way that you find difficult because of something he or she really needs to be made easy too? See what comes to mind with this focus on the other person. Once you get an idea, figure out a way to explore real time how this is doable for you and easier for both of you.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career and Life coaching for professionals:

A prepared coaching session about this subject will have the following result:

  • You will have a clear picture of what triggers you to find certain people ‘difficult’.
  • You will have found what you need to make the situation between you easy (or easier).

Dealing with difficult people is one of the soft skills we offer coaching in.

    Contact us