Welcome to the archived web site of
Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit
Now in memoriam - This website is no longer being updated
Articles by Dr. Friedman (except where noted otherwise)
Dealing With Difficult People
Persuasive Strategies To Carry On Unhooked
By Will Joel
Friedman, Ph.D. and Kirby Palmer, M.S.W.
published: Dealing with difficult people. Inland Empire Magazine, July
2001, pages 31-32.]
"Can you believe that guy?!"
Take your pick for what crosses your mind or comes out of your mouth when faced with an outrageously difficult person. You reason with them, you ignore them, you yell and verbally punish them, and finally you beg and plead with them. All for naught. They're still obnoxiously difficult at best and insultingly hateful at worst.
In a study of some 400 managers and workers in both the private sector and public agencies, management consultant Robert M. Bramson found that 70% are unable to cope with the 10% of troublemakers, while 20% were apparently not so bothered. This article is for managers and owners of businesses who so often have to deal with the 10%.
Since in reality there is no way you can directly control or manage the offending party's words, attitudes and behavior, you might as well handle your own. Here's a thumbnail sketch of four classic difficult employees and precise strategies to defuse their false power, rein in their obnoxiousness and put them out of business, at least with you:
Stubborn, Dogmatic Perfectionists: It can be disturbing to discover that the people that hold high standards are often quite astute. Unfortunately, these same folk send the message that others are not important, even irrelevant, to the endeavor.
Buy-Out Remedies: The real perfectionists, when reached with logical reasoning and loads of documentation, will become more reflective. Join them in their high quest, have the project work for all concerned and have a well-reasoned, frank discussion to help open their minds.
Hostile, Passive-aggressives: This is the person who may appear cooperative, but is often competitively ruthless, two-faced and dishonest down to their toenails. They can be repeatedly lackadaisical in completing tasks and late for work. More critically, they may sabotage a team effort by withholding information or not doing things right in the first place.
Buy-Out Remedies: First, you can wisely not react to their ploys and act as you would naturally and normally. Communicate directly exactly what message their behavior conveyed to you. State precisely what you DO WANT from them starting NOW. Request they personally "sign up" to do their job responsibly without any backhanded fallout like nasty snipping or gossiping.
Whinny Complainers: When given a new task, regulation or ways of doing something, this person will typically begin their whine with a rendition of why things are bad and getting worse. They do not like the status quo, have no idea what to change, and see nothing as ever right nor could it ever be.
Buy-Out Remedies: You can very briefly paraphrase the concern you hear and that you have some empathy and understanding. State your long-standing "policy" to hear any complaint so long as it is presented along with at least one or more remedies. Until then, all complaints go to the 3rd floor (there is no 3rd floor!).
Emotionally Volatile Volcanos: This is the person that may use physical intimidation as well as verbal coercion to be right and get his or her way. These people teach others to stay clear of them and acquiesce to whatever they want for fear of their creating a scene by blowing their stacks. Bullies are often afraid of being ridiculed, taken advantage of and not being taken seriously.
Buy-Out Remedies: Taking an assertive delay, like simply walking away, for all parties to cool off is smart. Reminders about remaining on purpose with the project, valuing their input and the significant difference they do make help calm troubled waters. Offering calm reassurance works wonders.
The keys to effectively manage these four types of difficult people are:
1. Deny them whatever reaction they are aiming to evoke while continuing to identify and address underlying feelings and motives, and
2. Tell the candid, assertive
truth, with humor if possible--it disrupts pre-conceived ideas, disarms and defuses,
and beautifully cuts through blarney.
Will Joel Friedman is a psychologist practicing in Loma Linda and Pasadena and Kirby Palmer is a social worker in Claremont. They are founding partners in Sharp Confidants, business consultants to companies in the private sector and public agencies.
© 2001 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. and Kirby Palmer, M.S.W. All Rights Reserved.
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