Difficult People Part 1- reasons for difficulty

“..the question is not so much what makes them ‘difficult’, but what we tell ourselves about them that makes them difficult” ~ Peter Vajda


Recently I’ve been working with a client who wants help with working effectively with a person she finds difficult. I asked ‘in what ways difficult?’ She said it was based on past experiences over a few years.  In the first instance they got on fine.  Circumstances changed and so did their relationship.  My client’s interpretation of this particular person’s words, deeds and behaviour led her to finding it nigh impossible to trust him as a work colleague.


But who do you count as ‘difficult people’? Here are some examples of typical reasons for finding someone difficult:

–  They have annoying work habits (read ‘their ways of working are different from mine’)
–  Their priorities are all wrong (read ‘their priorities are different from mine’)
–  They’re so selfish (read ‘they don’t consider what I or other people might like’)
–  I don’t like how they speak to me (read ‘I don’t think they respect or show respect for me’)
–  You can’t trust what they say (read ‘I don’t trust them’)
–  They’re so judgemental (read ‘I feel negatively judged by them’)
–  They think they know-it-all (read ‘and that I don’t, even though I do most of the time’)
–  They’re so aggressive (read ‘I’m frightened by them’)
–  They’re too demanding (read – well you could read a variety of things!)
–  They irritate me (read – ‘Oh my goodness, I do that and I don’t like it about me either!”)
–  They’re so negative/they complain all the time (read – so what do you read into this?)


Some people:

–  fit into a type of person you find ‘difficult’ – this includes roles they have
–  become difficult over time (like my client’s situation)
–  have some characteristics you find difficult, and other ways of being that you are fine with


Really it’s all about your thinking!  And yet it all feels so real so, understandably, you treat it as real.


How would you summarise the different types of thinking for finding a person difficult?  Here are my ideas:

  1. Hooks: some people have a knack of finding what to go for to get under your skin.  Once you take the bait, they control you.
  2. Egos: there may be a clash of egos or the ‘difficult person’ wanting his/her ego in control/on top.
  3. Roles/functions: the formal and informal roles people play can impact how people connect – or not connect; e.g. a ‘difficult person’ may perceive those in authority of any description as ‘the opposition / the enemy’, which will affect their behaviour and communication; your manager may not fit your idea of a manager
  4. Differences: different values, work styles, ways of thinking, preferences, et cetera can mean that the other person appears ‘difficult’.  This includes things like prioritising, negativity, what judgemental about, level of being demanding and reactions to things.
  5. Similarities: usually ways of behaving, speaking, etc that you don’t like about yourself!
  6. Emotional state: when a person is in an emotional state you find difficult to handle – for instance, anger, tears, quarrelsome.  Or you may be in an emotional state that reduces your ability to handle a situation.  This may also be a sub-set of ‘differences’ because you may not understand their emotional response as it so different from your way of responding.
  7. A felt sense, intuition: There’s just something about the person that puts you on guard.
  8. They remind you of someone: and you probably find that person ‘difficult’.  You may or may not be conscious of this link.


In essence misunderstandings arise.


So where do trust and experience fall in these categories?  The things my client mentioned.


It depends!  In my client’s situation, I think a good number of the categories are coming into play, so it will take time to develop a better working relationship.


In my next blog I’ll cover some ideas about how to prepare to change your experience and approach to the ‘difficult people’ you may have in your life.


All the best