Recognize the Difficult People

I’ve mentioned more than once in this series of posts the importance and inevitability of working with other people. That’s mostly good news, because people are interesting and can be capable of great, wonderful ideas and actions.

But there’s bad news, too, because some people are just plain difficult to deal with.

Difficult people come in many varieties. Often their particular brand of difficulty is not intrinsically obnoxious, but becomes obnoxious because they display it too often, inappropriately, or too emphatically. At times, their difficulties feel frustrating, and can interfere with – occasionally disrupt or even ruin – some or all of your work and your life.

Avoidance of difficult people is always a good strategy, when you can use it. But if you’re thrown together with a difficult person – because of work, responsibilities, family relationships, propinquity, or any other reason – recognizing them and their brand of difficulty is your first, most important step in making the best of the situation.

Here are some tips on recognizing difficult people before their difficulties impact you too severely:

I Am Arrogant

Certain people are way too confident in their own abilities and knowledge. I have met only one person who honestly backed up his “know everything” attitude with actual unbeatable performance. I’m willing to cut you a break, Eric. But I’m pretty sure most readers will agree with me that everyone else who displays arrogance is both irritating and mostly unqualified to display that attitude.

I Am in Charge

These are people who continually try to impose their will on everyone else.  If they are actually in charge – by virtue of being the team leader, boss, owner, legal authority, or whatever – their difficulty is combined with a certain degree of validity. But imposing your will on everyone else rarely produces results as favorable as surrounding yourself with good people and allowing them enough leeway to do their best.  

I Am Insincere

People who say what they don’t mean and don’t say what they do mean can demonstrate this trait in many ways:

  • Agreeing with ideas they don’t like.
  • Denying actions they have committed.
  • Lying (either by omission or commission).
  • Making promises, then flaking.
  • Withholding their true thoughts and feelings.

and more.

The key takeaway here is not to trust the insincere person, or to do what is sometimes better: “Trust, but verify.”

I Am Negative

Negativity goes way beyond the simple “glass half empty” attitude. People who are too negative tend to:

  • Doubt that tasks can be satisfactorily completed.
  • Expect problems to arise at every turn.
  • Feel uncomfortable trusting other people and their future behavior.
  • Feel vindicated when events don’t go well.
  • Find fault with every idea.

Curiously, their negativity seems to attract more of the very problems they so often expect.

I Have A Complaint

Nothing is ever good enough for people with a complaining attitude. Wherever they stand, the grass is always greener somewhere else. Their baseline seems to be perfection, and anything less not only causes them unhappiness, but triggers the urge to share their unhappiness too widely.

I Am Rigid

No matter how many options are available and how many possibilities exist, the rigid person has a fixed “my way is the right way” point of view. People who are too rigid may or may not also be bullies. If they are, they usually try to force their will on others. If they are not, they simply suffer or argue against any idea, analysis, preference, or course of action not their own.

It’s beyond the scope of this piece to suggest ways to change difficult people. Even without a remedy, however, you can often make your work and life easier just by recognizing the particular strain of difficulty that the person you’re dealing with typically presents to the world.

It’s also important that you recognize this: even the most difficult person is probably not difficult all the time, and nearly everyone can be difficult under certain circumstances.

That’s why it’s important you maintain as much tolerance as you can, and stay ready to react positively when such difficulties vanish.

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