Posted by: Christine Donovan | May 25, 2009

Succeeding with Difficult People: Part I – Identify the Real Problem

I’m often asked to speak on “Succeeding with Difficult People,” and in fact, last year offered that topic at the National Apartment Association National Education Conference in Orlando (General Colin Powell was the keynote speaker, so I was in celebrated company!), and so I thought that I would share some of those ideas here. 

Judging by the countless books, seminars, blogs and articles on the topic… this is clearly a major issue for people; there are a ton of opinions out there, but apparently few truly practical answers. 

So I’m going to throw my hat in the ring and see if I can shed some light on the issue of conflict.  I’m no expert of course, but after years of handling large departments, challenging bosses, defensive employees and sensitive social acquaintances, I’ve learned a few things along the way.  (Not the least of which was how much I contributed to my own difficult situations).

Conflict appears to be on the rise this millennium.  Of course there have always been difficult bosses, customers, coworkers, neighbors, and church members, but we are clearly living in a time where good manners and restraint have gone the way of VHS recorders.

If you’ve ever ventured into an Internet discussion group or chat room you’ve undoubtedly witnessed an online “brawl,” wherein so-called adults find themselves arguing and name-calling at a pre-adolescent level.  We’ve all heard the horror stories of Facebook and My Space violence (Stalking, suicides, etc).  So technology, as wonderful as it can be, has been a major contributor to the rise of conflict.  It’s easy to hide behind an anonymous screen name and let the obscenities fly.

Reality TV has brought out the worst in humanity as every program from Big Brother to Top Chef to Rock of Love demonstrates that the concept of good sportsmanship is also a lost value of another era.  (I’ll have to spend some time writing about that, after recently watching a particularly nasty episode of The Real Housewives of New York).  An unpopular war and extremes in partisan politics has added to the strife even further.

I Googled “difficult people” the other day and got 2,380,000 hits, then found 561,000 listings under “difficult people” training.  So it is clearly an issue in both our professional and personal lives.

When I do a presentation or seminar on “difficult people,” I listen carefully to comments and concerns from the audience.  It seems that most people are aware of the problem, but few have a strategy on how to deal with it.  Or, more realistically, most people want me to fix all the “others” in their lives, without first turning the spotlight on themselves.

The truth is, it’s kind of hard to be a peacemaker when you are completely focused on being right and always winning the argument.  Pride comes before the fall.  Unfortunately, none of us wants to accept that reality; it would just be so much better if “they” (everybody else) changed.

But they aren’t going to change; in fact the longer we live the more of “them” we encounter.  And with the growth of electronic communications, global interaction, escalating political vitriol and a society focused on achievement and materialism, it’s natural that competition will continue to rise.

So how do we deal with so many difficult people?  Better yet, how do we “succeed” with them?

First, we have to take a look at ourselves…. next post.

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