Difficult people are …

So what are difficult people to you? – I’m guessing they’ll probably get on your nerves or irritate you? Perhaps you find them frustrating?  Are they a challenge to manage? Are they people that like to constantly change things or move the goal posts? Do they have a different point of view to you? Do you struggle to make them understand? Maybe they are the in-laws? your partner’s friends? the parents? a neighbour? work colleagues? the boss? a client? a customer?

What makes a person difficult?

Difference. Simply put they are different to you/the other person in some way. What one person describes as ‘difficult’ could be entirely different to the next person. For some people they instantly find someone difficult, for others someone may have behaved or done something in a particular way a number of times or for a period of time before we decide or label them in our own mind as difficult.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”  Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Perhaps this person sees the world from a different perspective? (who knows who’s right anyway?) – maybe they’ve had different life experiences to you which means they take a different approach, maybe they’re really risk adverse. They may have different values to you (the things that motivate and drive us) – e.g. you might have a number 1 value of Fairness (your No. 1 value is what is most important to you/what you put most effort into and are most upset about if the need is not met) and they might have an entirely different number 1 value of for example Fun (which means having fun is more important to them than driving for fairness).

Maybe you want the detail of something and they want the big picture or overview (and unless you both understand the difference, the two of you will never communicate effectively and it will be frustrating and almost impossible to communicate). On the other hand, perhaps you’re ever the optimist (seeing opportunity or the possibility of what could be) and you’re talking to some who is aways the pessimist (they may see it not as pessimism but realism – they spot the things that could go wrong or highly flaws in the proposed way forward) – people with both preferences get frustrated with the other.

An organisation I worked with a while ago had a senior team who had worked together for a long time – there were lots of unwritten social rules/norms about how this group of people interacted and behaved (e.g. they never challenged each other because harmony was more important to everyone in the group).  A new person joins the group and either doesn’t know about the ‘rules’ or thinks things should be questioned (maybe not even challenged) or indeed the new person might simply operate on their own ‘default setting’ which is different to the ‘norms’  that are displayed in the group – this person might be perceived as difficult because they just won’t tow the line ….

Good luck if you want to change them – you can only really change yourself …

You are in control of your mind and therefore your behaviour and results. You can provide feedback to the other person and help them understand how their behaviour makes you feel, but remember their behaviour is driven by their unconscious mind – so unless you help them change things at the unconscious level (which NLP can help you do) your progress in addressing the issue will be limited at best.

**STOP PRESS** – Have you ever stopped to consider that to some people you might be that ‘difficult person’? – it’s a different perspective isn’t it – the NLP technique Perceptual Positions is a great tool for helping people see things from a different perspective (- I teach Perceptual Positions to delegates on my NLP Diploma courses as a great problem solving and a conflict resolution tool).

What can you do to improve your relationship with difficult people?

  • Adapt your communication and interactions – most people start from a stand point of needing to ‘make’ the other person change – you can’t control other people, but you can control your mind, behaviour and interactions – can you take responsibility and do something different to improve the situation? Can you build more rapport and try to adapt your style to be more like them in order to improve your results/the outcome? (e.g. if they like lots of detail, can you give them more detail so they have what they need in order to support your idea/proposed way forward).
  • Are you reacting with emotion? would it help if you to responded differently? – often when we deal with people we perceive as being difficult we have a lot of emotions attached (sometimes the thought of doing of interacting with them is even worse that actually doing it). We all have the ability to choose to respond differently to them (and they with us). Those people who are already NLP Practitioners will know about Submodalities and how we can use these to change the international representation and therefore how we feel – e.g. changing the submodalities to make an internal representation less ‘compelling’ or reduce the emotions – read our blog for a great explanation and more on submodalities.
  •  How would you rather feel instead? – our NLP Practitioners will recall the Swish Pattern – so when to see your difficult person, how would you rather feel instead of [anger/irritation/frustration etc]? Practitioners can work with another Practitioner to choose to feel a different way instead by changing things at an unconscious level -cool eh?


Laura is passionate about helping people realise their potential, and achieve the results they deserve. She believes, if you change your thinking, you can change your results. If you’d like to find out more about Unleash Your Potential, you can check out our NLP courses and coaching options, and link up with us via our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter or link up with Laura via LinkedIn. You can of course also email us at: [email protected]