Working with difficult people – Part 5: Start from a strong place

My last post in this series explained how certain types of behaviour can create difficult behaviours in others, and suggested ways to stop this from happening. To conclude the series, this post will deal with the fact that your ability to deal with difficult people effectively starts inside you. If you feel confident and willing to try different strategies to handle the difficult behaviour, you are more likely to get a positive result.

Those people who start from a strong place are also less likely to encounter difficult situations.

Beliefs and results

We all form views on whether or not we have certain aptitudes or skills. In this context, it can be useful to consider:

  • What has led you to form these views?
  • Are your views based on perception or reality?
  • Does your perception dictate the reality?

Many of us have developed beliefs in ourselves and our abilities that are based on the judgement of others. These judgements have frequently been made quickly and without much thought; yet they can have an immense impact on our self-esteem.

Fear of failure and lack of belief in our own ability often prevents us from taking risks and becoming involved in new pursuits. It can be useful to challenge your limiting beliefs. You may not excel in a particular activity, but if you have fun and gain experience while doing it, you will have accomplished something worthwhile; who knows, perhaps you can even create a new reality!

How to appear confident

Sometimes, our body language and the way in which we communicate can let us down. You are far more likely to elicit a positive response if you appear confident (but not, of course, aggressively so).

Eye contact

In a one-on-one situation, maintain eye contact and avoid staring or using a fixed gaze, both of which are unnerving and can give out the wrong signals. Keep your eyes relaxed; don’t forget to blink and, by lowering your eyes briefly on deflecting them, make the person feel they still have your attention. Good eye contact confirms your interest, confidence and sincerity in what you are saying.


Effective communicators deliver clear and precise information without rambling or constantly reiterating points. Although their dialogue can appear spontaneous, there is generally a high level of planning involved. Key points are identified and a conversation is punctuated by bullet points. Mental and written preparation increases your ability to communicate clearly.

  • Think carefully about what you want to say.
  • What is the purpose of your communication?
  • Who is your audience and what language is appropriate – in other words, formal or informal?
  • What is your desired outcome?
  • Mentally rehearse your conversation in advance, highlighting key points.
  • Write your key points down.
  • Be positive: demonstrate enthusiasm and conviction.


Let your tone of voice convey enthusiasm. The way in which you relay something has a huge impact on your listener(s). If you want other people to be excited about your ideas, show that you are, too.

Facial expression

How warm and approachable are your facial expressions? Do you convey interest in what the person is saying? Do they know you are paying real attention to them?

Your facial expression will reveal all this to your potentially difficult person, so it is good to occasionally monitor what you are projecting through your facial expression, especially if you are not getting the results you want.

Body language

  • Is your body language conveying the right messages?
  • Check your body language: is your posture open, natural and relaxed?
  • Practise some deep breathing to help you to relax.
  • Stand tall and use open gestures.
  • Be natural.

See it from their perspective

When we experience difficulty in working (or personal) relationships with other people, we often feel stuck in a particular pattern of interaction that almost always ends up in a similar outcome – probably not the one either party wants.

The key to breaking out of this circle is to recognise what is really going on and to identify new or hidden win-wins. Part of the problem is that there can also be considerable emotional baggage tied up with the relationship, so you end up not expressing yourself in the way you wanted to.

When we communicate a message to someone, we frequently only see things from our point of view; we try to get comfortable with putting our message across, but too much self-focus often stops us from communicating in the most effective manner. Once we become aware of other perspectives and able to tap into the insights they offer, we find we have extra resources we can use to help us communicate far more effectively.

The following process helps you to understand what is going on by opening up different perspectives on the situation, while protecting you from negative emotions.

Perceptual positions

It is useful to look at things from three perspectives when seeking information about a relationship.

1. Our congruent self

You are fully and confidently committed to your goals. This is looking at the world as you see it. It is your own personal perspective.

2. Seen from standing in another’s shoes

Step into the other person’s shoes in your imagination and look back at yourself. This gives an insight into how the other person perceives you and what their need may be.

3. Self-coach

Stand back from yourself, looking at and listening to yourself and others interacting. This gives you a detached view from which you can make more objective decisions about how to communicate effectively with the other person.

Perceptual positions – how to do it

Before you begin, identify three spaces on the floor, four or so feet apart, for yourself, the other person and your objective self.

Step 1: Identify either a relationship you would like to explore or something more specific that you would like to understand from the other person’s point of view.

Step 2: Stand in the self position and consider the situation from your point of view, clarifying for yourself:

  • What is important to me?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • What is my outcome?
  • What are my challenges?
  • What do I think they should do?
  • What do I think of them?
  • What do I think their outcome is?

Ask any other context-specific questions that may be of value.

Step 3: Step into the other person’s position, taking their point of view – stepping into their shoes – and consider the situation totally from their perspective, asking the same questions, as if you were the other person:

  • What’s important to me [the other person]?
  • What am I [the other person] proud of?

Use the same questions as in step 2 above.

Step 4: Go to the observer position and watch the relationship between those two people, noticing the way they are communicating and how they are interacting. What individual gift could you give each of them that would ensure this relationship achieved its full potential? Identify any new/changed/enhanced behaviours/approaches/attitudes that would be useful in improving the relationship. Check the consequences of any of the changes, making sure they are respectful of the needs and values of both parties and are appropriate to the situation.

Step 5: Return to the self position and reconsider the situation from your point of view, incorporating the new ideas and thoughts you gained from taking the other person’s point of view and from having the benefit of the observer’s perspective. Re-evaluate the relationship in light of the information gained.

If you would like further advice on how to work successfully with difficult people in your organisation, email me or call me on 020 7099 2621.

If you missed any of my previous posts on this topic, you can catch up here:

Working with difficult people – Part 1: Causes of unwelcome behaviour

Working with difficult people – Part 2: What sparks defensive behaviour?

Working with difficult people – Part 3: Checker, commander, collaborator or communicator?

Working with difficult people – Part 4: Our part in the difficult situation