Overcoming Difficult People

Everywhere I turn lately, I find information to help deal with difficult people.  My biggest reaction to all of it is this, why just deal with them when you can completely overcome them?  Why just learn to tolerate being around those you can’t stand, when you have the option to either change them or get them out of your life completely!

Let me describe a situation that kind of sparked this whole thing.  My girlfriend is a musician who does a lot of work for our church.  One thing she did was to bring in another musician to add to the experience of the congregation, a guitar player who came in to play a few songs along with the keyboard and singers.  Everything went well, until afterwards when he stormed out of the church without saying anything to anyone.  Well, Linda met up with him later that day to pay him for his participation, and to find out what went wrong.  At that point, he started “reading her the riot act” asking how could a church possibly be right if it didn’t preach this or that.

Linda tried to explain to this misguided guitar player that our church teaches things a little different from what he was used to, and that she had tried to explain that to him before bringing him into the church (he was from a very conservative, fire-and-brimstone kind of church).  Our church is one that teaches acceptance of others, living peacefully, and living the principles taught by the great teacher, Christ.

The difficult guitar player had a problem that the minister didn’t even mention the name of the great teacher, although the lesson was clearly one that follows the teachings.  For over an hour, Linda tried to tell this person that she accepted the fact that he believed things should have been different, and that she felt no need to convince him of anything.  He, on the other hand, felt very compelled to point out “the error of her ways”.  In short, he was being very difficult.

If I had been there, I would have been able to take care of the situation, but it reminded me that there are specific techniques to use in order to get someone else to come around to your way of thinking.  And when this is impossible, you can always get the other person to not be so difficult.  That is what I would like to share with you today.

There are two basic strategies for overcoming a difficult person.  One is passive and the other is active.  The passive strategy is one that has been taught by great motivational leaders throughout history.  Christ phrased it this way, “If your enemy strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other cheek as well.”  This does not mean that you actually ask to be beaten, but that you do not resist the attack.  Gandhi also taught the path of no resistance.

With many personalities, if you don’t fight back, then they realize that they cannot “get a rise” out of you and move on to someone they can intimidate.  This works best when the difficult person is being difficult as a means of ‘proving’ that they are strong and powerful.  And this is usually the case when you have someone who feels very insecure about his or her own identity.  In Linda’s case above, this was the tactic she tried to use, but it failed because the difficult person was not acting from a standpoint of insecurity.

In Linda’s case, she was trying to overcome a person who had a strong need to be right.  With this kind of personality, resistance or not, they will continue to fight for what they believe is the right course of action.  Religious wars have been all too common, and many political wars have been based on the same theme.  In our lives, we usually don’t pursue the conflict long enough for it to escalate into an all-out war.  When you find yourself in this kind of situation, you need to take an active approach to overcoming the difficult person.

The active approach has a few aspects that may be applied during the course of the encounter.  The first aspect, which must be applied right from the start, and all through the encounter, is to communicate to the difficult person that they are fighting a losing battle.  No matter what they try to say or do, they will not convince you to become any different than you are.  Now this will not be something you say outright.  If you do, then you are throwing out a challenge, and difficult people always love challenges.  Don’t make the situation any more difficult than it is already.  Instead, you will implement the second aspect of the active approach.

The second aspect is to engage the difficult person as though the two of you are on the same side, and not adversaries at all.  Find common ground, and make sure that everything you say relates to that common ground the two of you share.  Battles of all kinds are all based on differences, not on similarities and commonalities.  Salespeople (if they are any good) all know that stressing the things you have in common with the other person makes that person like you more.  Part of the active approach to overcoming difficult people is to turn that enemy into a friend.  How often do you fight with your friends?

The third aspect of this approach is the most difficult, and requires an intimate knowledge of the other person’s viewpoint.  And even if you know for a fact that you know the other person’s viewpoint inside and out, ask that difficult person to explain what they are thinking.  This will do a couple of things for you.  One, it will give this person an outlet for their energy.  The more they talk, the less energy they have to fight with.  It also makes them feel as if they have accomplished something.  They’ve gotten their point across.

It will also give you the information you need to bring this person around to your way of thinking.  There is a great truth that the only way to lead a horse to water is one step at a time.  You have to start where the horse is!  The same is true when persuading anyone to do anything.  Whether you are trying to persuade your boss to give you a raise, your lover to go along with your plans, your kids to behave as you wish they would, or a difficult person to leave you alone, you always have to start where they are.

There’s one more thing that letting the difficult person talk could do for you.  There is always the possibility that you could learn something new.  Maybe you had never seen things the way this person sees them.  Maybe from another perspective, the world could be seen as flat, or the sun revolves around the Earth, or your religion could become more effective in reaching its followers.

Benjamin Franklin, who has been acknowledged as a very wise man by many, learned that there were many times when he was mistaken about certain facts, and that he didn’t know everything.  If you’re honest with yourself, you will find that you are not always right about everything either, right?  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to put up with a difficult person, but it gives you the next aspect of the active process to overcome them.

Placing a seed of doubt into the mind of your difficult person is the first step to moving them from where they are now to where you want them to be.  They have to admit that they don’t know everything, and that they could be mistaken about just about anything.  Even if you get no further than this, you can usually convince the difficult person to not be so difficult.  You want them to start to think that they could be wrong, and that you could be right.  Unfortunately, you can’t just say this to them, but you need to ask questions that will lead them to this thought.

If you find that you’ve gotten this far with your difficult person, then you could continue to ask questions (they lead thoughts so much better than flat statements, don’t you agree?) that will cause their mind to take one step at a time over to your way of thinking.  Just remember that small steps work much better than giant leaps.  Any small step that leads them closer to you is good.  And also remember that most people resist any change; so don’t expect a complete reversal within minutes.

The only other thing I can say here in this short article is that those in the Keys To Power system learn even more methods which help change other people’s thinking and behavior.  And they learn methods of keeping difficult people out of their lives completely, so they never have to overcome them in the first place.

I hope that I have given you some new tools to use in making your life easier.  Use them with joy, and with Power!