Dealing With Difficult People: Who’s Who in the Zoo?

Recognize any of these people? Ever been one of them? I’m sure you can some additional descriptors as well.

I recently gave a presentation on “Dealing With Difficult People.” It seems that this  topic is very popular, especially in light of the US election, the emergence of President Trump, and his style of leadership. Regardless of how I personally feel about that, looking around at what’s going on in the world, I can’t say that I’m surprised this topic is very current.

People are stressed out. They have short fuses. Some see nothing but doom and gloom in the world and they give up hope. The economy in many areas is a great cause for concern.

The participants in this workshop were from a particular association that provides a variety of goods and services to the general public. They deal with the public as external customers, and they deal with each other, and the folks that provide them with goods and services to run their businesses, as external customers.

The interest in the workshop comes from the fact that these people have many interactions with others that they deem to be “difficult,” and they’re not sure how to handle these encounters. Herein lies the interesting conundrum. Who, in fact, is the “difficult” one?

Do you know any difficult people? What makes them difficult? Is it because they don’t agree with your point of view? Is there something in their personality that triggers you? Is it because you just don’t like them?

Ponder this; has anyone ever thought YOU were difficult? Do you think there are people in the lives of these “difficult” people who DON’T think they’re difficult? Hmm, if you answered yes to either of those two questions, where does THAT leave us?

Maybe instead of thinking about how to deal with “difficult” people we could re-frame and think about how to deal with difficult situations. How do we handle people when they’re escalating because of something they don’t like about the organization we work for, the goods or services they purchased from us, or our own personality?

When we look at it in those terms, we don’t have to place judgement on others. All we have to do is use some skills to de-escalate the situation and rectify the problem, if possible. In light of that, I developed a model called L.O.V.E. that I share with  participants in this workshop. Yes, LOVE!

What else besides LOVE can help heal the problems in the world? So why not use this powerful word when trying to navigate through difficult situations in the workplace. Here’s what my LOVE model stands for.

“L” is for Listen! I can’t emphasize the importance of this skill. I’m talking about “active” listening, not just bobble-head listening. I’m talking about listening for meaning, listening for emotion, listening for context. I’m not talking about holding your breath and waiting impatiently for the other person to stop talking, so you can begin! Have you ever been in a situation where your anxiety/anger/fear, etc. was diminished just because you felt listened to? Try and remember that the next time you’re in a difficult situation at work and someone is complaining about something. Simply listen to them!


“O” is for being Open! I’m talking about being open in terms of your posture, open stance, and also open in terms of your mind. Don’t be defensive, don’t take it personally even though the other person might be trying to make it so. 


Don’t be judgemental or condescending or rude. You know how it feels when you’re complaining about something to an organization, and their people are like that with you. It doesn’t feel good, and it only escalates the situation.

“V” is for Validate! God, I wish people did more of this in their personal and professional lives. We need to be validated! Not every second, but it’s important! Validation shows us that others understand what’s going on for us. They are validating that it’s ok for us to feel a certain way in certain situations. How do you feel when that you’re angry about something that an organization has done, and you’re trying to find a resolution, and the person you’re dealing with NEVER  validates how you must be feeling? It drives me absolutely crazy!

All someone needs to do is say something like; “Wow Sir, it seems like you are really angry about this!” “YESSSSSSSSSSSS, I am, THANK YOU for noticing!” That in itself can make me feel a whole lot better and calm me down so I can be more present in the conversation to rectify the problem.


Finally, “E” is for Enhance! In a difficult situation, what can we do to enhance it? To make it better. To rectify the situation. Do we need to apologize? Do we need to provide the customer with a replacement or a refund? Do we need to say thank you? If the purpose of the situation is to come to a resolution, there are all sorts of ways to do this which can lead to a “happy” ending of a difficult situation.

In closing, let’s re-think what a difficult person is and remember that we, too, can be difficult. Let’s treat everyone the way we want to be treated. And let’s use the L.O.V.E. model to develop skills to handle those difficult situations in order to preserve relationships and solve problems.


Check out this very cool clip about the importance of validating!