Twitter Tips: Dealing with difficult people

The new series of Twitter Tips began last week.  The total tips for the last series, which began in February 2011, was 100 and this year we’re aiming for about twice that.  The tips are posted on @pegasusnlp Monday to Friday.  And each week’s 5 is followed by a blog article expanding on them which will be posted early in the following week.

Last week’s theme was “Dealing with Difficult People” so let’s look at the 5 Tips.

Labelling people

(1) Difficult People. ‘Difficult People’ categorises them & blinds us to their individuality and their complexity. Use Person with a Difficulty instead.

The labels we attach to people, in this case as “difficult”, determine our attitude towards them.  So if I label somebody as difficult or awkward or unfriendly I will approach them expecting this behaviour – whether or not I receive it.  And my approaching them in this way will, in turn, actually evoke the response in them that I had prepared for.

The label determines of their very personality is “difficult”.  Changing the label to “person with a difficulty” change the focus from their personality to the difficulty they are having and, therefore, towards looking for solutions.

Calmly investigate the difficulty

(2) Communicate calmly, respectfully and mainly through asking for info about what they are finding difficult.

If somebody is in the habit of being difficult they will have a ready-made programme for handling either or both of the two more usual responses that they will get i.e. aggression or defensiveness.

If, on the other hand, I remain calm and respectful I don’t provoke them.  And it’s quite likely that this response is so unusual that they won’t have a ready-made programme for dealing with it.  Which leaves the door open to calm discussion.  And if this discussion is about their difficulty we can immediately begin building rapport.

Proactive rather than reactive

(3) Use questions and you keep the initiative. Talking at them risks becoming reactive rather than proactive

By using questions you gain information about what they are having difficulty with.  This gives you thinking time because they are doing most of the talking – especially if you ask further qualifying questions.  The thinking time makes it unlikely that you will move into reactive mode – and that’s important.  When we react we repeat old actions, old programmes rather than deal creatively and proactively with the situation.

Ask them to tell you the consequences

(4) Ask them to describe consequences of continuing with neg. behaviour, plus how it impacts others & events 

It is likely that we have decided that they are difficult because of some behaviour they are engaging in or are not engaging in.  Once again we lose the initiator is if we begin hectoring them about how unsatisfactory this is and how it affects other people.

Far better to continue in our calmly respectful style and uses questions to ask them to tell us what they think or the consequences of their current approach.  And what are the consequences of them continuing with this approach into the foreseeable future.

And we can use questions to tease out further details about the impact of their behaviour.

Avoid taking things personally

(5) Treat Difficult People as challenge so you must develop new skills. Diplomats see it as a game: convert rather than blame!

It’s very important in dealing with people who we consider difficult to not get emotionally involved in the situation but to treat it as a challenge – as a means of motivating develop even better communication skills.

It is very much in the style of good international diplomats.  They don’t take things personally, no matter how difficult or obstructive the other party.  Rather they see it as a game – as a challenge to their skills.

Next time

This week’s Twitter Tips topic is about motivating people. And, in case you don’t use Twitter, today’s Tip suggests that we recognise that some people are motivated by rewards while others are motivated by thinking about consequences.

And, since you’ll certainly have noticed that the title of this blog is ‘Dealing with Difficult People (1)’ let me explain: that’s because there will be at least one follow-up of 5 more Twitter Tips on this topic later on.


  1. ferrreira on 24th January 2012 at 4:58 PM

    Muito bom , pequenas dicas mas que causam um grande impacto se for aplicadas.
    Parabéns !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (Google translate: Very good, but small tips that make a big impact if it is applied. Congratulations)

  2. Reg on 24th January 2012 at 5:08 PM

    Thank you. And, I agree, the ‘if applied’ is an important part of it 🙂

  3. Karen Joergensen on 29th January 2012 at 9:30 AM

    Do I have to register on twitter to read the follow-ups, or can I read them here?