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What makes some people Difficult??

Do you ever find some people difficult?  What is it about them?  We all have had some one difficult to deal with in our own lives.  Some of us struggle more than others.  I wonder why that is?  I believe that it all comes down to perspective and how much we try to control things.

So what do we mean when we say difficult people?  It could be described as any interaction that is not easy, that requires great effort (physical or mental) to accomplish, comprehend or endure.  When I do workshops on this topic there are common descriptive words that come up from the audience to describe their feeling about “Difficult people”.

Such words are frustration, pain, anger, feeling undervalued, a sense of no control, overwhelmed, sadness, avoidance, fear and even aggression.  Not nice feelings huh?

One of the common problems with Difficult people is how to we continue to interact with them, that is assuming we cannot remove them form our lives altogether.  The truth is that most often we need to continue to work with talk with, or serve these people.

Ongoing communication and interactions can quickly become strained.  When this happens it is a very slippery slope.  Why is this?

Well let’s start by quickly talking about communication, what does it mean to effectively communicate?  It is to be heard and understood.  Now I didn’t say agree, but the receiver needs to understand your intentions.

When our emotions run hot we tend to start to assume and misinterpret which is like adding fuel to the fire.  Our logical mind can almost shut down when we become really upset and as such we tend to over react.  Can anyone relate?

Any parents out there, think of a time when you are feeling on top of things, it’s been a good day and your kids are being difficult.  How do you respond?  If you’re like me it is with a cool calm head, you are strong and effective and things work out – eventually.

How about on a bad day when you are feeling tired, emotional and fragile.  Same issue your kids are being difficult (if they are like mine they can smell a fragile Mum from 100 metres).  Before you know it, same scenario and you are the one screaming and kicking like you’re a 3year old having a tantrum!  Nice…….

Difficult people can bring out the worst in us.  When our emotions get in the way and we misinterpret and assume things.  When we avoid conversations thinking that this is the answer.   There is hope!

If we can learn a few simple principles and can increase our awareness we can turn things around for everyone’s benefit.  Firstly, each of us can be difficult!  Amazing thought huh?  Each of us has the capacity to cause tension for another.  Particularly, for those who see the world or interact in a different way to us.

For example, the faster thinking, fast talking, driven, bossy, demanding people can cause quite a bit of tension in the more relaxed, patient, non confrontational people.  Just by entering the room these strong styles can cause friction.

Those colourful fun loving, chatterboxes who can talk underwater with a mouth full of marbles can cause quite a bit of tension for the straight laced, serious, analytical of us who don’t understand how some people can be so frivolous and unfocussed.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “the single biggest problem is the illusion that communication has taken place”.  So, if communication is being heard and understood.  It means that the intent of your message has been clearly heard and understood by the receiver.  This does not mean agreement, but it does mean understanding.

Difficulty comes from there being a gap between the person communicating and the person receiving.  This gap can be from areas such as cultural differences, perspective, past experiences, upbringing and mindset.  The larger the gap between the two, the higher the likelihood of miscommunication or misinterpretation.

For example, we communicate with others the way that we prefer to be communicated with.  A driven, dominant person can come across to a gentle patient person as quite confrontational.  A fun, loving, talkative person can come across to a conservative analytical person as flippant and self-centred.

Two dominant people can cause friction in one another as they subconsciously battle for who will hold the reins and have control.  While two non-confrontational people may secretly drive each other crazy as neither one of them is courageous enough to speak up about issues.

An important breakthrough we need to have when it comes to difficult people is realising what part we play in the equation.  We can actually make the interaction worse by adding fuel to the fire.  When we accept others for who they are, true connection can happen.

Seeing the value that each of us bring (yes even difficult people have strengths and bring enormous value) will change the quality of your interactions dramatically.

Being aware that the only thing we can ever truly control is our attitude and response to others.  When we realise this we can start to have quality connections with others, even those that see the world in a completely different way to us.

So next time you are struggling with such a difficult person or situation try to appreciate the person for their strengths and give them the time and encouragement to be the best they can be.

Here are some tips to assist you to get the most out of your connections with others even those who can be difficult at times.

  • Read the behaviour only –  not the intention.  Let’s face it we don’t know someone’s intention, and when we assume we usually get it wrong.  If someone if very different from us then our assumption is even more likely to be off track.  If you aren’t sure, ask….
  • Try to see things from their perspective.  There is a real power in seeing the world from someone else’s perspective.  It can lead to understanding on a completely new level.
  • Communicate with care.  Each of us deserves to be communicated with, with care.  What I mean here is to be mindful of what you are saying and to care about the person through the communication. 
  • Be assertive.  Assertive communication is on the continuum between passive and aggressive communication.  It is about being effective in your communication and being clear on your intentions. 
  • Be respectful of the others feelings, you can disagree but never disrespect.  Each of us craves understanding and respect.  Maturity comes when we can be comfortable with the notion that there can be perspectives and opinions other than our own.  Being able to listen to another’s opinion with an open heart and mind without being threatened is a skill that will certainly build connection. 

 So next time you are faced with a difficult person, or a difficult situation – breathe.  Don’t take things personally.  Realise that we are all different and that there is strength in our differences.  Don’t be threatened when someone goes about things in a way that you don’t understand.   Look for the value in them and their perspective.  See their differences as a compliment to your strengths.

When we are courageous enough to truly see others despite our differences, accept them and appreciate them, no matter how different from us they are; our interactions with others will be strengthened and our connections can be all they were meant to be.



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