“Dealing with Difficult People” by Rick Brinkman, Rick Kirschner Essay
“Dealing with Difficult People” by Rick Brinkman, Rick Kirschner
Difficult people: they’re those people you can’t
stand and who don’t do what you want them to do
or do what you don’t want them to do—and you
don’t know what to do about them!
Good news: you don’t have to be their victim
anymore. And while you can’t change difficult people, you can communicate with them in such a way that they change themselves.
In this book, we deﬁne the four key areas you’ll
have to focus on to solve your people problems.
First, we’ll describe the “10 most unwanted”
types of behavior and examine the forces that compel people to be difficult in such a variety of ways. Then we’ll help you build a “lens” for understanding why people act the way they do. Your ability to recognize the four key behavioral intentions is the
ﬁrst step toward success in inﬂuencing people to
change their behavior toward the positive.
Then, we’ll focus on surviving through skillful
communication. This involves, among other things,
learning the critical skills of blending and redirecting. We’ll show you techniques that will help you listen to understand—and thereby to reach a deeper understanding. We’ll suggest ways that you can
speak to be understood. With effective listening skills
and speaking skills in your repertoire, you’ll have the
building blocks for speciﬁc strategies for the toughest behaviors. And as you make these positive communication skills a habit, you will be able to prevent many of the difficult behaviors from ever occurring.
After that, we discuss each of the 10 most
unwanted behaviors and tell you how to get the best
result with each of them. We close by simply encouraging you to get started and suggesting some concrete action steps that you can take, immediately, to start dealing better with the people you can’t stand.
So who are “we”? We are best friends, business
partners, and physicians. We have spent many years
studying health from an attitudinal and behavioral
point of view. Long ago we became convinced that
when people clarify their values, update their concepts, learn effective communication and relaxation skills, and deﬁne and work to meet their goals, they
feel better. And as their mental and emotional health
improves, many of their physical symptoms disappear.
In 1982, a mental health organization asked us to
create a program on how to deal with difficult peo2
ple. That marked the beginning of the process that
resulted in this book—and also changed the way we
deﬁne what we do. We now view all our work as public practice, supporting the health and well-being of people by educating them in some essential life
skills, while getting a kind of continuing education
in people for ourselves.
For almost two decades,
we’ve been learning about people’s hopes and fears,
how people build their lives or destroy them, how
people communicate, what makes people difficult,
and how best to deal with people at their worst.
We’ve written this book to pass that information
along to you.
We’ve presented these ideas to hundreds of thousands of people, through books, tapes, and seminars. We hope and believe that the ideas in
this book will make a meaningful and lasting difference in the quality of your life.
There are difficult people and everyone has to deal
with them: We identify 10 general types of troublesome behavior. You may have your own “least favorites.”
There are effective ways to deal with these people:
That’s what this book is all about.
“This book will help you to identify and assemble elements of effective communication. You can get through and be one of the few who brings out
the best in most people at their worst.”
፬ Avoid or ignore difficult
፬ Recognize the 10 most
What are the 10 most unwanted behaviors? We all
answer this question slightly differently, depending
on our own interpersonal strengths and weaknesses.
But we would generally agree about which people
are difficult and what they do that makes them difficult. We’ve identiﬁed 10 speciﬁc behavior patterns that sane people resort to when they feel threatened
or thwarted, that represent their struggle with (or
withdrawal from) undesired circumstances.
The Tank: Pushy and ruthless, loud and forceful, or with the quiet intensity and surgical precision of a laser, the Tank assumes that the end justiﬁes the
means. If you are in the way, you will be eliminated.
The Sniper: This covert operator resents you for
some reason. Instead of getting mad, he or she gets
even by identifying your weaknesses and using them
against you, through sabotage, gossip and putdowns.
The Grenade: This person explodes in tantrums
that seem disproportionate to the present circumstances, sending others ducking for cover and wondering what it’s all about. The Know-It-All: This person knows 98% of everything. (Just ask!) Know-It-Alls will tell you what they know—for hours at a time!—but won’t take a
moment to listen to your “clearly inferior ideas.”
The Think-They-Know-It-All: Although these people don’t know that much, they don’t let that get in the way. If you don’t know much about what they’re
talking about, they may mislead you into trouble or
throw a project off track.
The Yes Person: Quick to agree, slow to deliver, the
Yes Person leaves a trail of unfulﬁlled commitments
and broken promises. Although they please no one,
Yes People over-commit to please.
The Maybe Person: When faced with a crucial decision, the Maybe Person keeps putting it off until it’s too late. Finally, there comes a point when the decision makes itself. Then it’s nobody’s default but his or her own.
The Nothing Person: You can’t know what’s going
on because the Nothing Person tells you nothing—
no feedback, verbal or nonverbal.
The No Person: This person says, “Every silver
cloud has a dark lining” and “I’m not being negative, I’m being realistic.” Doleful and discouraging, the No Person drives others to despair.
The Whiner: These people wallow in their woe,
whine incessantly, and drag others down with the
weight of their generalizations that nothing is right,
everything is wrong, and it’s always going to be that
way unless you do something.
Some initial ideas for dealing with the 10 most unwanted types:Understand that everybody reacts differently to
these types of behavior: The person who’s most irritating to you may be perfectly acceptable to someone else. Get to know these types: Each warrants a different
response. Think about the people around you. Does
anybody at work or at home ﬁt one of these descriptions?
Recognize the part you play: We can all be difficult at times. Understanding these behaviors in yourself will help you in your success with others.
“There is a certain consensus in polite society
about who difficult people are and what it is they
do that others ﬁnd difficult.”
፬ React instinctively
፬ Choose your approach
Before we go any further, we need to stress the fact
that there are at least four choices when dealing
with people you can’t stand. There’s no magic formula; you are the best judge of which choice is right in any particular situation—although, as you’ll see,
we believe the ﬁrst of these four choices is in fact a
The four choices are:
Stay and do nothing. Doing nothing is not necessarily complete passivity; it may include both suffering and complaining to other people who can do nothing. Doing nothing is dangerous, because frustration with difficult people tends to build up and get worse over time. And complaining to people
who can do nothing tends to lower morale and productivity, while postponing effective action. Vote with your feet. Sometimes, your best option
is to walk away. Not all situations are resolvable,
and some are just not worth resolving. Voting with
your feet makes sense when it no longer makes any
sense to continue to deal with the person. If the situation is deteriorating, if everything you say or do makes matters worse, and if you ﬁnd yourself losing control, remember that discretion is the better part of valor. Then walk away. Like Eleanor
Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior
without your permission.” Before you decide to
walk, however, you may want to consider your two
Change your attitude. Even if the difficult person
continues to engage in the difficult behavior, you
can learn to see the person differently, listen to the
person differently, and feel differently about the person. There are attitudinal changes that you can make in yourself that will set you free from your
reactions to problem people.
Change your behavior. When you change the way
you deal with difficult people, they have to learn
new ways to deal with you. There are effective,
learnable strategies for dealing with most problem
behaviors. That’s what this book is about.
Realize that difficult behaviors ﬁt into types, but
each situation is different: You need to decide what
kind of response is called for in each situation.
Avoid trying to do nothing: That strategy is probably not sustainable. If the situation is bad enough, you’ll probably have to act.
Change your attitude ﬁrst, then your behavior:
Sometimes an attitude change alone is enough. But
it’s always a prerequisite for the harder task of
changing your behavior.
“Don’t despair. Remember that when dealing
with difficult people, you always have a choice. In
fact, you have four choices.”
፬ Don’t worry about
፬ Understand the four
The ﬁrst step in changing your attitude toward the
10 most unwanted behaviors is to understand them.
The key is the four intentions with which people
respond to situations and in two variables:
assertiveness level and focus of attention.
People range from passive (less assertive) to
aggressive (more assertive). The assertiveness level
is often inﬂuenced by the situation: during times of
challenge, difficulty, or stress, people tend to move
out of their normal “comfort zone” and become
either more passive or more aggressive.
The focus of attention in a situation can be primarily on the task at hand—a task focus—or primarily on relationships—a people focus. In times of difficulty or stress, most people focus more on
either the “what” (task) or the “who” (people) of the situation.
Now put the two variables together. A person
can focus on people aggressively (e.g., belligerence),
assertively (e.g., involvement), or passively (e.g.,
submission) or on a task aggressively (e.g., bold
determination), assertively (e.g., involvement), or
passively (e.g., withdrawal).
We each have a comfort zone of normal—more
or less acceptable—behavior that challenges, difficulty, or stress can cause us to leave for a zone of exaggerated—or problem—behavior.
Every behavior (whether acceptable or problem)
has a primary intent or purpose that it’s trying to
accomplish. We’ve identiﬁed four general intents
that determine how people will react in any situation:
■ Get the task done.
■ Get the task right.
■ Get along with people.
■ Get appreciation from people.
(These aren’t the only intentions that motivate
people, but they serve as a useful framework for
understanding and dealing with difficult behaviors.)
When these intents become thwarted or frustrated, trouble arises. Behaviors can be pushed to the extreme—which may lead to the difficult behaviors outlined earlier. The following diagram shows how the four
intents relate to the four behaviors.
Intents are constantly shifting, depending on
the person and situation, which brings changes in
behavior. So you should:
Understand the four intents: They all have their time
and place in our lives. When we keep them in balance,
the result is often more success and less stress.
Be attentive to communication patterns (words,
tone, and body language): They reveal the primary
intent of difficult people and indicate how to deal
Don’t be difficult: When your intents are thwarted, you may become a difficult person. The more you know about why people behave as they do, the
more you can change yourself.
“Have you ever been astonished at how
quickly a person’s behavior can change from one
moment to the next?”
፬ Counter the behavior
፬ Understand the ﬁrst
intent: get it done
Have you ever needed to get something done, ﬁnished, and behind you? When you need to get it done, you focus on the task at hand. And when you
really need to get it done, you speed things up,
focus on action, and assert yourself. You may even
become careless and aggressive, leaping before you
look or speaking without thinking. The people
around you become peripheral.
When this attempt to get things done is frustrated, it can distort people’s perceptions of a given situation. Suddenly, others appear to be wasting time, going off on tangents, or just plain taking too long.
The intent increases in intensity and the subsequent behavior becomes more
controlling. The three most difficult controlling behaviors
are found in the Tank, the Sniper, and the Know-ItAll.
The Tank. On a mission to get things done, the
Tank is unable to slow down and may push you
around or run right over you in the process. The
Tank has no inhibitions about ripping you apart personally, yet it’s nothing personal: you just happened to get in the way. In an effort to control the process
and accomplish the mission, Tank behavior ranges
from mild pushiness to outright aggression.
The Sniper. When things aren’t getting done to his
or her satisfaction, the Sniper attempts to control
you through embarrassment and humiliation. Most
people live in fear of public embarrassment—a fact
that Snipers use to their advantage, by making
loaded statements and sarcastic comments at times
when you are most vulnerable.
The Know-It-All. The Know-It-All controls people
and events by dominating the conversation with
lengthy, imperious arguments and eliminates opposition by ﬁnding ﬂaws and weaknesses to discredit other points of view. Because Know-It-Alls are actually knowledgeable and competent, most people are quickly worn down by their strategy, and ﬁnally just give up.
Intents shift over time. You may begin a task
with the intent of getting it right, then ﬁnd that
you’re running out of time and have to shift to getting it done. When starting a new job, you may lean
more toward getting along, but over time you may
come to focus more on getting appreciation.
The key points:
Understand that behaviors are sometimes driven
by the intent to get it done: This isn’t necessarily bad
or inappropriate. In fact, it may be needed.
Know the dynamics of the intent to get it done: It
causes people to focus on the task, to speed up, to
assert themselves. They may become careless, treat
other people as peripheral, and act aggressively.
Recognize that the intent to get it done can lead to
controlling behaviors: These can express themselves
as the bullying of the Tank, the lethal comments of
the Sniper, or the dominating lectures of the KnowIt-All. But what they all have in common is they seek to take charge of you and the situation.
“If you need to get it done, you focus on the
task at hand. Any awareness of people is peripheral or unnecessary to accomplishing the task. … You tend to speed up …, to act …, to assert …. You
may even become careless and aggressive.”
፬ Counter the behavior
፬ Understand the second
intent: get it right
Getting it right is another task-focused intent that
inﬂuences behavior. Have you ever sought to avoid
a mistake by doing everything possible to prevent it
from happening? When getting it right is your highest priority, you slow things down enough to see the details. You probably take a good, long look before
leaping—if you ever leap at all. You may avoid taking any action because you feel unsure about what might happen as a result.
When the intent to get it right becomes thwarted or threatened, everything around this person begins to seem haphazard and careless. To add
insult to injury, people seem to address these concerns with increasingly fuzzy terms. When sufficient intensity is reached, the result
is increasingly pessimistic and perfectionist behav-
ior. The Whiner, the No Person, and the Nothing
Person all exemplify this behavior.
The Whiner. In our imperfect world, the Whiner
believes that he or she is powerless to create
change. Burdened and overwhelmed by all the
uncertainty around what can go wrong, Whiners
abandon all thought of solutions. Instead, as the
feeling of hopelessness increases, they focus on any
problems that can be used as evidence for their massive generalization. They begin to whine, “Nothing is right. Everything is wrong.” This, of course, serves
only to drive everybody else crazy—and the deteriorating situation provokes further whining. The No Person. Unlike the Whiner, the No Person
does not feel helpless in the face of things going
wrong. Instead, the No Person becomes hopeless.
Certain that what is wrong will never be set right,
No People have no inhibition about letting others
know how they feel. “Forget it, we tried that. It didn’t work then, it won’t work now, and you’re kidding yourself if anyone tells you different. Give up and save yourself from wasted effort on a lost
cause.” This attitudinal black hole pulls others into
the No Person’s personal pit of despair.
The Nothing Person. When events fail to measure
up to the standard of perfection, some people get so
totally frustrated that they withdraw completely.
There may be one last shout at the powers that be
for failing to get it right: “Fine! Do it your way. Don’t come crying to me if it doesn’t work out!” From that
point on they say—and do—nothing.
The key points:
Understand that behaviors are sometimes driven
by the intent to get it right: Again, this isn’t necessarily bad or inappropriate. In fact, it may be exactly what the situation calls for.
Know the dynamics of the intent to get it right:
People concentrate on avoiding mistakes and slow
down to pay more attention to all of the details.
They may not take action because of concerns about
the consequences. They may ﬁnd fault with others
for not caring enough.
Recognize that the intent to get it right can lead to
perfectionist behaviors: This can express itself as the
whining of the Whiner, the negativity of the No
Person, or the silent withdrawal of the Nothing
Person. But what they all have in common is their
sureness that nothing works out positively.
“When getting it right is your highest priority,
you will likely slow things down enough to see
the details …. You may even refuse to take action
because of a particular doubt about the consequences.”
፬ Counter the behavior
፬ Understand the third
intent: get along
A third intent is to get along with other people.
This is necessary if you want to create and develop
relationships. When there are people with whom
you want to get along, you may be less assertive as
you consider their needs and interests above your
own. In other words, personal desires are of lesser
importance than the intent to get along with another person. The problem is that when people who are
focused on getting along with others are uncertain
about how others feel about them, they tend to take
reactions, comments, and facial expressions personally. Behavior becomes increasingly geared toward gaining approval and avoiding disapproval. The
three most difficult approval-seeking behaviors are
the passive Nothing Person, the wishy-washy Yes
Person, and the indecisive Maybe Person.
The Nothing Person. Timid, uncomfortable, and
uncertain, get along Nothing People excel at
tongue-biting. Since they don’t have anything nice
to say, they don’t say anything at all. At their worst,
they say nothing almost all the time. This, in many
ways, is the perfect strategy to avoid conﬂict, to
avoid hurting someone else’s feelings, and to keep
from angering anyone. However, since a Nothing
Person can’t relate authentically or speak honestly,
he or she doesn’t really get along with anyone.
The Yes Person. Yes People attempt to get along
with others by trying to please everyone. A Yes
Person agrees to every request, without considering
the consequences. Before long, the Yes Person has
overpromised and underdelivered to such an extent
that the very people he or she wanted to get along
with are furious. In the rare instance where the
promises are kept, the Yes Person’s life is no longer
his or her own, because all choices are made around
other people’s demands. This produces a deep-seated anxiety and much resentment in the Yes Person and can even lead to unconscious acts of sabotage.
The Maybe Person. The Maybe Person avoids disapproval by avoiding decisions. After all, the wrong choice might upset someone, and who would be
blamed? The solution is to put the decision off, waffle,
and hedge until someone else makes the decision—or
the decision makes itself. Like all the other difficult
behaviors, this behavior perpetuates the problem it’s
intended to solve, mainly by causing so much frustration and annoyance that the Maybe Person is locked out of meaningful relationships with others.
The key points:
Understand that behaviors are sometimes driven
by the intent to get along: As we will see in subsequent chapters, establishing common ground is a good technique. But basing your actions—and your
self-esteem—on your perceptions of how others see
you is usually counterproductive.
Know the dynamics of the intent to get along:
People tend to feel unsure about how others feel
about them, so they take reactions, comments, and
facial expressions personally and behave in ways
that they believe will gain approval and or at least
Recognize that the intent to get along can lead to
approval-seeking behaviors: This can express itself as
the withdrawn Nothing Person, the agreeable Yes
Person, and the indecisive Maybe Person. But what
they all have in common is you really don’t know
where they stand.
“If getting along is your top priority …, personal desires are less important than the intent to get along with another person.”
፬ Counter the behavior
፬ Understand the fourth
intent: get appreciated
fourth intent requires a higher level of
assertiveness, as well as a people focus, in order to
be seen, heard, and recognized. The desire to contribute to others and be appreciated for it is one of the most powerful motivators. Studies show that
people who love their jobs—as well as husbands
and wives who are happily married—feel appreciated for who they are and what they do. When the intent to get appreciated becomes distorted, the lack of positive feedback combines in a person’s mind with the reactions, comments, and
facial expressions of others and the person tends to
take it personally. The intent to get appreciation
intensiﬁes in direct proportion to the lack of appreciative feedback and the problem behavior becomes increasingly aimed at getting attention.
The three most difficult attention-getting behaviors
that result from the desire to get appreciation are the
Grenade, the Sniper, and the Think-They-Know-It-All.
The Grenade. Grenades feel they don’t get any
appreciation or respect. When the silence becomes
deafening, look out for the Grenade’s grown-up
temper tantrum: “Nobody around here cares! That’s
the problem with the world today. I don’t know why
I even bother!” (While the Tank uses focused ﬁre in
a single direction, based on a speciﬁc charge, the
Grenade produces out-of-control explosions in any
and every direction: his or her outbursts may be
completely unrelated to present circumstances.)
Since this desperate behavior produces negative
attention and disgust, the Grenade is even more
likely to blow up at the next provocation.
The Friendly Sniper. This Sniper, a variation on the
unfriendly sniper who’s trying to undermine your
self-control, actually likes you and his or her sniping
is a “fun” way of getting attention. Many people have
relationships that include friendly sniping. Normally,
the best defense is a good offense, because instead of
offending, a return snipe is a sign of appreciation.
But if the person on the receiving end doesn’t give or
receive appreciation in this manner, he or she may be
laughing on the outside and hurting on the inside.
The Think-They-Know-It-All. The Think-TheyKnow-It-All is a specialist in exaggeration, half-truths, 30
jargon, useless advice, and unsolicited opinions.
Charismatic and enthusiastic, this desperate-forattention person can persuade and mislead an entire group of naïve people into serious difficulties. If you
argue with the Think-They-Know-It-Alls, they turn up
the volume and dig in their heels, then refuse to
back down until you look as foolish as they do.
The key points:
Understand that behaviors are sometimes driven
by the intent to get appreciated: We all want to be
appreciated. It’s how we get there that counts.
Know the dynamics of the intent to get appreciated: People who become more concerned about receiving positive attention can take lack of affirmative feedback personally and read too much into reactions, comments, and facial expressions.
Recognize that the intent to get appreciated can
lead to attention-seeking behaviors: This can express
itself as the tantrums of the Grenade, the barbed
jokes of the Friendly Sniper, or the boastfulness of
the Think-They-Know-It-All. But what they all have
in common is they force you to notice them.
“The desire to contribute to others and be
appreciated for it is one of the most powerful motivational forces known.”
፬ Focus on behavior, not
፬ Recognize the results
of threatened intents
The four intents—get it done, get it right, get
along, and get appreciated—have their time and
place in our lives. The priority of those intents can
shift from moment to moment. We normally balance
them, for more success and less stress.
But what happens when a person’s intent is not
met? Let’s look at each of the four intents and the
results when those intents are threatened (see diagram).
When people want to get it done and fear that
it’s not getting done, their behavior becomes
more controlling. They try to take over and
When people want to get it right and fear that it
will be done wrong, their behavior becomes
more perfectionistic. They ﬁnd every ﬂaw and
When people want to get along and fear that
they will be left out, their behavior becomes
more approval seeking. They begin sacriﬁcing
their personal needs to please others.
When people want to get appreciation and fear
they’re failing at that intent, their behavior
becomes more attention getting. They become
difficult to ignore.
And so it begins: a person who might otherwise
be inclined to act within the “normal zone” of
human interaction starts drifting outside that zone,
into a “gray zone” of less acceptable behavior and
even into problem behavior.
The key points:
Understand that each of the four intents grows out
of human nature: People are only human, after all!
Know that each intent leads to predictable kinds of
behaviors: People who want to get it done become
more controlling. People who want to get it right
become more perfectionistic. People who want to
get along become more approval seeking. People
who want to get appreciation become more attention getting.
Be alert to signs that someone’s behavior is going
beyond the “normal zone”: That’s when people who
are acting acceptably start to become the people
you can’t stand.
“Once people determine that what they want is
not happening, or that what they don’t want is happening, their behavior becomes more extreme and therefore less tolerable to others.”
፬ Accept differences as
፬ Reduce differences
What makes some people so easy to relate to and
others so difficult? We argue that conﬂict in a relationship occurs when the emphasis is on the differences, rather than on the similarities. Think of it as “United we stand, divided we can’t stand each
So reducing differences is essential to dealing
with people you can’t stand. Success in communication depends on ﬁnding common ground, and then trying to redirect the interaction toward a new
Two essential communication skills will help
you reduce differences: blending and redirecting.
“Blending” refers to behavior by which you reduce
the differences between yourself and another person. “Redirecting” is any behavior by which you use a growing rapport to change the trajectory of your
interactions. These skills are not new, of course;
they are part of normal human contact. In fact, you
already use them, to some extent.
You can (and probably do) blend with people in
many ways. Visually, you may blend by altering your
facial expression, degree of animation, and body
posture to match the other person. Verbally, blending occurs when you try to match the volume and speed of your counterpart’s speech. And you blend
conceptually with your words. When people feel
like you’ve listened to them and you understand
them, that’s the result of blending. It’s natural to
blend with people whom you like or with people
with whom you share an objective. Conversely, it’s
equally natural not to blend with people whom you
perceive as difficult. But the failure to blend has
serious consequences, because without blending,
the differences between you become the basis for
Three key points:
Remember that no one cooperates with anyone
who seems to be against him or her: In human relations, there’s no middle ground. Unconsciously or consciously, people want to know, “Are you with me
or against me?” You come across as either hot or
cold in the relationship—perceived as being on
common ground or as worlds apart.
Reduce the differences between yourself and the
other person: You can blend by modifying your facial
expression, your gestures, your posture, the volume
and speed of your speech, and your words.
Blend before you redirect, whether you’re listening
to understand or speaking to be understood: Only
after establishing some rapport with your difficult
person through blending will you be able to redirect the interaction and change the trajectory toward a worthwhile outcome. In dealing with a
particularly difficult person, try to recall instances in
which you have successfully blended with or redirected this person in the past and try to imagine circumstances in which you might do so again.
“Conﬂict occurs when the emphasis is on differences. Reducing differences can turn conﬂict into cooperation.”
፬ Make people understand
፬ Listen to understand
When people express themselves verbally, they
generally want evidence of at least two things:
they’ve been heard and they’ve been understood. A
good communicator tries ﬁrst to be a good listener.
We advocate ﬁve steps toward good listening.
The ﬁrst step toward good listening—introduced
in the last lesson—is blending. How does someone
know that you’re listening and understanding? In
essence, it’s through the way you look and sound
while they’re talking. Rather than distracting a difficult person with puzzled looks, interruptions, or statements of disagreements, help him or her to fully
express his or her thoughts and feelings. You do this
by nodding your head in agreement, making occasional sounds of understanding. Everything about you, from body posture to voice volume, must give
the impression that you hear and understand.
When your problem person begins to repeat
what’s already been said, it’s a signal to move to step
two: backtracking. This involves repeating back
some of the actual words that another person is
using, sending a clear signal that you’re listening and
that you think what the other person is saying is
important. Translating or rephrasing what they have
said is counterproductive and may create the impression that you haven’t understood what’s been said. Having heard what the difficult person has to
say, the next step is clarifying.
At this point, you
start to gather information about the meaning of
what is being communicated. Ask some open-ended
questions, which will allow you to ﬁgure out why
the person is being difficult and what intent he or
she is hoping to satisfy with that behavior.
It isn’t always possible to understand why someone is upset. Emotions so cloud the reasoning capabilities of many people that their intelligence effectively becomes disconnected from their feelings. While it’s virtually impossible to reason with an emotional person, it’s still possible to look
and sound like you understand, backtrack what you’ve heard,
and then become curious enough to ask questions.
The fourth step is to summarize what you’ve
heard. This allows you to make sure that both you
and your difficult person are on the same page.
When you do this, two things happen. First, if
you’ve missed something, he or she can ﬁll in the
details. Second, you’ve demonstrated, yet again,
that you’re making a serious effort to fully understand. This increases the likelihood of gaining cooperation from that person down the line. Having listened carefully, you’ve now arrived at
a crucial juncture. But before you move on, conﬁrm
with the person that he or she feels satisﬁed that his
or her problem has been fully voiced. Ask if he or
she feels understood. Ask if there’s anything else
that needs to be put on the table.
When enough sincere listening, questioning,
caring, and remembering are brought together,
understanding is usually achieved and a difficult
person becomes less difficult and more cooperative.
The key points:
Listen ﬁrst, listen well: You aren’t likely to be
heard (or understood) until the person has said
what he or she has to say.
Learn and practice the ﬁve steps to good listening:
Blend, backtrack, clarify, summarize, and conﬁrm.
Make sure the other person knows you’ve heard and
understood: You must establish this fact before you
attempt to get him or her to hear and understand you.
“When two or more people want to be heard
and no one is willing to listen, an argument is
inevitable. Listen and understand ﬁrst, and you
unlock the doors to people’s minds.”
፬ Just deal with behaviors
፬ Reach a deeper
We’ve discussed listening as a method for increasing trust, cooperation, and understanding. Yet sometimes the most important and useful aspects of
communication are hidden—not just from the listener, but also from the speaker. When you identify the elements driving the difficult person, you reach
a deeper understanding of that person’s needs and
Identifying the intent is an important ﬁrst step to
understanding your difficult person. You can apply
the blending strategy to the four intents to increase
cooperation and decrease misunderstanding.
If you’re dealing with someone whose top priority appears to be to get it done, your communications with him or her should be brief and to the point.
If you’re dealing with someone whose top priority appears to be to get it right, you should pay great attention to the details in your communications.
If you’re dealing with someone whose top priority appears to be to get along with you, use considerate communications to demonstrate
your interest in him or her.
If you’re dealing with someone whose top priority appears to be to get appreciated, recognize his or her contributions with words of enthusiastic appreciation.
In other words, it’s crucial to ask yourself which
intent lies behind a person’s behavior or communication. Here’s a surprise: even if you’re not totally sure what the key intent is, make the likely choice
and act appropriately. Because these intents are
within you, in most cases your intuition will be right
and you’ll get a good response and increase rapport.
And if it is not, then simply try something different.
Another way to reach a deeper understanding of
your problem person is to identify the criteria that
are important to them. Criteria are the ﬁlters on
our points of view—the standards by which we measure ideas and experiences to determine if they’re good or bad. Criteria become especially important
when differing ideas or points of view are being discussed. Any time you identify criteria in a discussion, you generate more ﬂexibility and cooperation. 46
Whenever a discussion starts to degenerate into
conﬂict, try to ascertain the reasons why people are
for or against something. Then look for an idea or
solution to the problem that blends those criteria
together. That’s another way to turn conﬂict into
The key points:
Identify and act on intents: If, for example, someone appears to need your appreciation, make your appreciation clear.
Act on intent even when you’re not sure of intent:
Because these intents are within you, let your intuition guide you. And if what you’re doing isn’t working, then simply do something else. Use criteria to reach a deeper understanding:
What are the ﬁlters that your difficult person is
using? How can you use your understanding of
those ﬁlters to create new options?
“This … is about … the kind of understanding
that will help you communicate effectively, prevent future conﬂict, and resolve current conﬂict before it gets out of hand …, the kind of understanding that results when you … closely examine the difficult behavior until you can see the motive behind it.”
፬ Just make your point
፬ Speak to be understood
We’ve advocated effective listening as the best way
to increase trust, cooperation, and understanding—
and as a prerequisite for effective communication
back to your difficult person.
When you express
yourself, it’s important to do so in ways that produce
positive effects. The signals, symbols, and suggestions that constitute our communication output provide a profound opportunity to inﬂuence relationships for the better. Here are six effective techniques. Monitor your tone of voice. Your tone sends people either a positive or a negative message. Even when you choose your words well, if your tone of
voice is hurried, hostile, or defensive, people may
hear something very different from what you
Mixed messages, caused by voice tones that
don’t match spoken words, cause miscommunications. If you hear yourself sending a mixed message, call attention to it and explain what you’re really
saying: “I know I sound angry, but that is because
this issue is so important to me.”
State your key intent. Articulating your key intent
lets people know where you’re coming from. When
your key intent is implied rather than stated clearly,
misunderstanding can result. Telling people why
you’re telling them something before you actually
tell them is a simple way to direct attention where
you want it to go.
Tactfully interrupt. There are occasions when it is
necessary to interrupt a difficult person. If someone
is yelling at you, dominating a meeting, or complaining in endless cycles of negativity, an interruption may be an elegant solution. Done carefully, it can also be tactful.
A tactful interruption is done without anger,
without blame, and without fear. Just say the difficult person’s name over and over, in a matter-of-fact way, until you get his or her attention. These repetitions create an irresistible force that so distracts Tanks, Know-It-Alls, Grenades, or Whiners that they
must stop talking to ﬁnd out what you want.
Tell your truth. Honesty can be effective, no matter
what difficult behavior a person engages in, if you’re
honest in a way that builds someone up rather than
tears him or her down. Remember to tell the person
why you are telling your truth before you actually
tell it. State your positive intent and why you think
it’s in the person’s interest to hear what you have to
say. Be sure to point out that it’s your opinion. Then
be speciﬁc about the problem behavior, show how
the behavior defeats his or her intent, and suggest
new behaviors to replace the old ones.
Stay ﬂexible. If your problem person becomes defensive, be willing to temporarily drop what you’re saying to focus on his or her reaction. Do your best to fully
understand any objections by backtracking, clarifying,
summarizing, and conﬁrming. This may seem timeconsuming, but overall, it takes less energy than an adversarial conversation that goes nowhere.
The key points:
Once you have listened well, move on to effective
speaking: One grows naturally out of the other.
Learn and practice the ﬁve techniques of speaking
to be understood: Yes, effective speaking is harder
and often takes longer—in the short run. But it’s the
best way to better outcomes in the long run.
Remember that “communicate” has the same origins as “common”: To communicate is to establish a common understanding.
“What you say to people can produce defensiveness or trust, increase resistance or cooperation, promote conﬂict or understanding.”
፬ Don’t expect too much
፬ Project and expect
The difficult behavior of problem people is often
reinforced, and even escalated, by thoughtless
and/or negative reactions from people around
them. So if you want to have a positive inﬂuence,
thoughtful responses are required.
It’s in your interest to give difficult people the
beneﬁt of the doubt. It’s also in your interest to help
them break their reliance on negative behaviors and
reinforce more constructive behaviors. If you do this
habitually, a difficult person may come to see you as
an ally rather than an enemy and be all the more
ready to fulﬁll your positive expectations.
The power of expectations can’t be underestimated. We call this phenomenon Pygmalion Power. If you tell people you have high expectations of
them, they will not deny it. They will in fact take a
step in that direction. But conversely, if you let it be
known that you have low expectations, these will
most likely be fulﬁlled, as well.
When your problem person is engaging in negative behavior, you may be tempted to say, “That’s the problem with you. You always ….” To use Pygmalion
Power effectively, learn to say, “That’s not like you!
You’re capable of …” and then describe how you
want the person to be, as if he or she already were.
And whenever your difficult person behaves well,
reinforce the behavior by learning to say, “That’s
one of the things I like about you. You’re always …”
and then say what the person has done successfully
so he or she will do it again.
Pygmalion Power is not the easiest technique to
employ when someone is acting badly. You may
have to spend some time mentally rehearsing it
before you’re able to talk this way with ease. You
may have to force yourself to hope that the person
can change, when all evidence is to the contrary. Yet,
we have no doubt that you can surprise yourself
delightfully with your power to bring out the best in
people at their worst.
The key points:
Understand and embrace Pygmalion Power:
Human nature is what it is. When you tell people
that they’re doing something wrong, they’re very
likely to get defensive. You can minimize that reaction by giving them the beneﬁt of the doubt and expecting the best. Sometimes you get it!
Appreciate criticism: This is nothing more than
the ﬂip side of Pygmalion Power. If you tend to get
defensive to criticism, perhaps you’ve noticed that it
usually makes things worse. The implication is that
your defenses are an admission of guilt, and anything you say may be used against you. Here’s a simple way to rapidly shut down criticism without either internalizing it or ﬁghting against it: verbally
appreciate it. A simple “thanks for the feedback”
may be all that it takes, and it’s over. Alternatively,
you can listen effectively, helping the critical person
to be speciﬁc until you learn something useful, he
or she learns it isn’t about you, or he or she loses
interest in criticizing you.
“It’s a fact that people rise or fall to the level of
your expectations and projections. Use projection
strategies to motivate your problem people to
፬ Cope with the Tank
፬ Bring out the best in
When you’re under attack by the Tank, you’ve
been targeted as part of the problem. The aggressive
behavior is meant to either shove you back on
course or eliminate the obstacle that you represent.
Your goal must be to command respect, because
Tanks simply don’t attack people they respect.
Aggressive people require assertive reactions.
Here’s a ﬁve-step action plan that will send a clear
signal that you are strong and capable.
Hold your ground. Stay put. Don’t change your
position and don’t go on either the offensive or the
defensive. Wait until the attack is over, then tell the
Tank what you’re going to do about it (even if it
means walking away)—and do it. Other times, you
may need to proceed to the next step.
Interrupt the attack. Say the person’s name over
and over until you have his or her full attention.
Once you’ve begun this step, don’t back off.
Aggressive people like assertive people who stand
up for themselves, as long as this isn’t perceived as
an attack. Keep your voice volume at 75% of the
Tank’s volume. Then he or she will perceive you as
assertive but not aggressive.
Backtrack. Now that you have the Tank’s attention,
backtrack the main accusation. This sets a good
example of listening with respect and conveys that
you’ve heard him or her. A Tank has a short attention span. Two sentences will do. He or she will go back to venting. Wait a few seconds, then interrupt
again and backtrack again.
Aim for the bottom line and ﬁre! Redirect the
conversation to the bottom line—the Tank’s if he or
she is right, yours if he or she is wrong. The Tank
wants to get it done, and your best chance of ending the attack is to blend with his or her intent. The bottom line varies with your situation, but can usually be stated in about two sentences. Keep it short and sweet: the attention span of a Tank is extremely
short. Try to establish that you and he or she are on
the same side: e.g., “We both want what’s best on
this project.” Or respond with a problem: e.g.,
“That’s terrible, I’m here to help you and we’re
going to do something about it!” A take-charge attitude will deﬁnitely blend with a Tank. If you’re not on the same side, just tell it like it is: e.g., “I’ll dis-
cuss this with you when you’re ready to communicate in a reasonable manner.” Peace with honor. Never close the door in the
Tank’s face. When you leave the door open, the
Tank has the opportunity to back off and probably
will take it. You can let him or her have the last word
… but you decide where and when this happens:
e.g., “When you’re ready to talk to me with respect,
I’m willing to hear what you have to say.”
There are three typical emotional responses to
an attacking Tank. They’re all natural—and all futile.
So adjust your attitude:
Don’t counterattack! Avoid engaging with the
Tank. You may win the battle, but you could still lose
the war if the Tank decides to build an alliance
Don’t defend, explain, or justify: The Tank has no
interest in your explanations and defensive behavior
is likely to further antagonize the Tank.
Don’t shut down: Out of fear or to avoid conﬂict,
you may be tempted to withdraw. But fear is a sureﬁre sign to the Tank that the attack was justiﬁed and may inspire him or her to return for more.
“The Tank is confrontational, pointed, and
angry, the ultimate in pushy and aggressive
፬ Cope with the Sniper
፬ Bring out the best in
When events don’t go as planned or are obstructed by others, a get it done person may try to eliminate the opposition through sniping. Your goal when dealing with the Sniper is to bring him or her
out of hiding. Since the Sniper’s limited power is
derived from covert operations, rather than overt,
once you’ve exposed a Sniping position, that position becomes useless. Stop,
look, backtrack. Since your goal is to bring
the Sniper out of hiding, you must ﬁrst zero in on
his or her hiding place.
If it seems that someone is
taking shots at you, stop!—even in the middle of a
sentence. Interrupting yourself brings attention to
the Sniper, effectively blowing his or her cover. Look
directly into the person’s eyes for a moment, and
then calmly backtrack his or her remark.
Use searchlight questions. Now it’s time to turn
on the searchlight, asking a question to draw the
Sniper out and expose his or her behavior. The two
best questions are based on intent and relevancy:
“When you say that (backtrack), what are you really
trying to say?” and “What does that (backtrack) have
to do with this?” The key to asking a searchlight
question is to keep your tone neutral and maintain
a neutral (read “innocent”) look on your face.
Use Tank strategy if necessary.
If a Sniper
becomes a Tank, you may have actually improved
the situation; at least now you know what the problem is! Use the strategy recommended for dealing with the Tank not only to command respect from
the Sniper, but also from those who have witnessed
Go on a grievance patrol. If you suspect that
someone is holding a grudge against you, but you’re
not certain, see what you can scout out. If you ﬁnd
evidence that someone is harboring a grudge, you
may want to clear the air. If you’re successful in
bringing the grudge to the surface, listen carefully to
all that your Sniper has to say. Once you fully understand the grievance, let
your problem person know that you understand and express appreciation for
his or her candid description of the problem.
Suggest a civil future. Whether in private or public, ﬁnish the interaction by suggesting an alterna62
tive behavior for the future. At the end of any
encounter with the Sniper, it’s important to let him
or her know that your preference in the future is
open and friendly communication. So …
Don’t overreact: Reacting strongly to the Sniper
may encourage him or her to dish out more of the
same. The best attitude to develop is one of amused
curiosity. Try not to take it personally; instead, focus
on the Sniper, rather than yourself.
Distinguish between friendly Snipers and malicious Snipers: Friendly Sniping has its origins in the intent to get appreciated, the need for attention.
Malicious Sniping, on the other hand, originates in
the intent to get it done and fulﬁlls the need for control by seeking to undermine the control of others. For the friendly Sniper, try reframing: Take the
remark as a sign of affection or a behavioral quirk. If
you can’t laugh at it, you can at least learn to laugh
it off. Or just let the Sniper know you don’t respond
well to teasing or put-down humor. Since the person likes you, he or she may change his or her behavior around you. And when that happens, reinforce it by appreciating the person for the change.
“Whether through rude comments, biting sarcasm, or a well-timed roll of the eyes, making you look foolish is the Sniper’s specialty.”
፬ Cope with the Know-It-All
፬ Bring out the best in
are knowledgeable and extremely
competent people, highly assertive and outspoken
in their viewpoints. Their intent is to get it done in
the way that they have determined is best, so they
can be very controlling, with a low tolerance for correction and contradiction. Know-It-Alls perceive new ideas as challenges to their authority and
knowledge and will rise to those challenges. They
will do anything to avoid humiliation.
Your goal with the Know-It-All is to open his or
her mind to new information and ideas. But as
we’ve seen, this isn’t easy(!). With Know-It-Alls, it’s next to impossible to get your two cents in.
Be prepared and know your stuff. If there are any
ﬂaws in your thinking, Know-It-All radar will pick up
on those shortcomings and use them to discredit
your whole idea. In order to get a Know-It-All to
consider your alternative, you must clearly think
through your information beforehand and be ready
to present it clearly and concisely.
Backtrack respectfully. Be forewarned: you’ll have
to do more backtracking with the Know-It-All than
with any other difficult person. They must feel that
you have thoroughly understood the brilliance of
their point of view before you’ll be able to redirect
them to another point of view.
It’s not enough to simply backtrack; your whole
demeanor must be one of respect and sincerity. You
want to look and sound like the Know-It-All’s view
is in fact the correct one.
Blend with their doubts and desires. If the KnowIt-All really believes in an idea, it is because of speciﬁc criteria that make that idea important to him or her. You will ﬁnd it helpful to blend with those criteria, if you know them, by acknowledging them before you present your idea. Then show how your
idea takes those factors into account.
Present your views indirectly. When the time has
come to redirect the Know-It-All to your position,
use softening words like “maybe,” “perhaps,” and
“bear with me a moment” to sound hypothetical
and indirect, rather than determined or challenging.
Try questions rather than statements and “we”
rather than “I.”
Turn them into mentors. By letting the Know-It-All
know that you recognize an expert and are willing
to learn, you become less of a threat. This way, the
Know-It-All spends more time instructing you than
obstructing you. It is entirely possible that, with
time, the Know-It-All may be more willing to listen
to you, as well.
Adjust your attitude:
Don’t use the Know-It-All’s weapons: Resist the
temptation of becoming a Know-It-All yourself. It
will only serve to entrench the Know-It-All more
Don’t resent the Know-It-All: It’s not in the KnowIt-All’s nature to get a
second opinion. Resentments will only lead to an argument, which is pointless.
Don’t force your ideas on the Know-It-All: Train
yourself to be ﬂexible, patient, and very clever about
how you present your ideas.
“Seldom in doubt, the Know-It-All has a low
tolerance for correction and contradiction. If
something goes wrong, however, the Know-It-All
will speak with the same authority about who’s to
፬ Cope with the ThinkThey-Know-It-All
፬ Bring out the best in
People who behave like Think-They-Know-It-Alls
are driven by the need to get appreciation. When
they feel slighted in any way, they’re likely to try
harder than ever to attract attention. Think-TheyKnow-It-Alls push their way into conversations where they may not be wanted.
Your goal when dealing with Think-They-KnowIt-Alls is to catch them in their act and give their bad ideas the hook. You’ll be most successful if you can
avoid putting the Think-They-Know-It-All on the
defensive. Here’s an action plan for bringing out the
best in Think-They-Know-It-Alls.
Give them a little attention. There are two ways to
give a Think-They-Know-It-All attention. The ﬁrst is
to backtrack on his or her comments with enthusi69
asm. This lets the person know that you’re paying
attention (and it puts these types on the receiving
end of their own foolishness). The second way is to
acknowledge the person’s positive intent, without
wasting your time on his or her information: you’re
giving positive attention without necessarily agreeing with his or her remarks. Clarify for speciﬁcs. If the person doesn’t know what
he or she is talking about and you do, this should be
easy. Ask some revealing questions about the speciﬁcs
of his or her information. Since Think-They-Know-ItAlls speak in huge generalizations, pay special attention to words like “everybody” and “always.” Tell it like it is. Carefully redirect the conversation
back to reality. Use “I” language to keep your
remarks as nonthreatening as possible. To add
irrefutable evidence, you can document your facts
as you go.
Give them a break. At this point, it has become
clear that the Think-They-Know-It-All doesn’t know
what he or she is talking about and that you do.
Resist the temptation to embarrass the person.
Instead, give him or her a way out, minimizing the
chance that the Think-They-Know-It-All will go on
the defensive. Think-They-Know-It-Alls are not as
attached to their ideas as Know-It-Alls. If you give
them a way to go along with you, chances are they’ll
be ready to jump on your bandwagon.
Break the cycle. Once people believe someone is
just a Think-They-Know-It-All, they may stop giving
that person any recognition at all, even when he or
she deserves it. But that increases the Think-TheyKnow-It-All’s need for appreciation, so he or she engages in that behavior even more. “Break the
cycle” means be ready to give credit where credit is
due. Notice what this problem person is doing right
and praise him or her for it. For some people, this
attention will be all that’s necessary to get the problem behavior to subside. With others, use a gentle confrontation to tell them the truth about the consequences of their negative behavior. Adjust your attitude:
Don’t burst their bubble: When you challenge ThinkThey-Know-It-Alls directly, their only way out is to counterattack with ever grander claims. And their conviction could sway others who don’t know any better. Don’t be too quick to judge: We’ve all defended
ideas that we didn’t necessarily believe to be true.
“Think-They-Know-It-Alls can’t fool all of the
people all of the time, but they can fool some of the
people enough of the time and enough of the people all of the time—all for the sake of getting some attention.”
፬ Cope with the Grenade
፬ Bring out the best in
When a person’s efforts to get appreciation are
thwarted by another’s indifference, he or she may
explode in a thinly disguised demand for attention.
Losing emotional control is a defense strategy
against the feeling of unimportance—a strategy frequently employed by the Grenade. If, as an adult in a group, you’ve ever lost control of yourself, you know how humiliating this can be. Grenades hate themselves for their behavior—
but this self-hatred often becomes the timing device
that provokes the next explosion. This volatile cycle
can continue unchecked, meaning that an ounce of
prevention can be worth far more than a pound of
cure! Here are the ﬁve steps to bringing out the best
in the Grenade.
Get the Grenade’s attention. This is the one time
you may have to be louder than your problem per73
son … but don’t let it seem aggressive. Call his or
her name loudly, but in a tone of voice that’s interested rather than angry. Aim for the heart. Show your genuine concern by
telling your problem person what he or she needs
to hear. By listening closely, you can determine the
cause of the explosion, then backtrack while assuring the person of your concern. When you hit the heart, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the
Grenade cools down.
Reduce intensity. When you see the Grenade
responding, begin to reduce your voice volume and
intensity. You can talk the person down from his or
her peak of explosion to a normal level of communication by reducing the intensity level of your own communications.
Take time off for bad behavior. There’s no point
in trying to have a reasonable conversation with
your problem person while the adrenaline is still
coursing. So take a little time out and let things cool
the rest of the way down. Then ask to get back
together to work things out.
Avoid setting off the Grenade. This step addresses the long-term relationship and is, therefore, the most important in dealing with your problem person. Try to ﬁgure out what pulls the pin on your Grenade … and then don’t pull it! If you discover
that the pin-puller is someone else in the office,
training in interpersonal communication and conﬂict resolution might be helpful. Adjust your attitude:
Release your anger: Adding your anger to an
already volatile situation will simply be pouring gas
on a raging ﬁre.
Learn to look at the Grenade in a different way:
Sometimes it can help to imagine the tantrum
thrower as a two-year-old in diapers. Adjusting your
perception of the Grenade will give you some much
needed distance on the situation.
Listen to the Grenade: Whatever the cause of the
explosions, if you’re willing to invest a little time in
actively listening to the problems the Grenade faces,
you will slowly be able to reduce the frequency and
intensity of the explosions.
“After a brief period of calm, the Grenade
explodes into unfocused ranting and raving about
things that have nothing to do with the present circumstances.”
፬ Cope with the Yes Person
፬ Bring out the best in
the Yes Person
Yes People have a strong people focus and a weak
task focus. They are extremely disorganized and frequently overcommit
themselves as they try to run their lives based on the desires of other people.
Sometimes they don’t know how to follow through
on something they’ve agreed to do; more often than
not, they don’t think about the consequences of
what they’re agreeing to do.
Yes People feel terrible when they can’t deliver
something they’ve promised. Yet they rarely feel responsible, because they can always ﬁnd circumstances beyond their control that have caused the trouble.
Your goal with the Yes Person is to get commitments you can count on. Here are ﬁve steps to bringing out the best in the Yes Person.
Make it safe to be honest. Through nonverbal
blending and verbal reassurance, make sure your
communication environment is safe, so that you and
your Yes Person can honestly examine whether he
or she will keep promises. As the person becomes
more comfortable with you, his or her true thoughts
and feelings will surface more easily.
Talk honestly. If you think the Yes Person is angry or
resentful about something or believes the excuses he
or she is spinning, talk it out. Hear the person out
without contradicting, jumping to conclusions, or taking offense. Acknowledge him or her for being honest. Help them learn to plan. Once you’ve listened to
your Yes Person’s point of view, it will be obvious to
you why the person can’t deliver on his or her commitments. This is the time to create a learning opportunity. Teaching your Yes Person simple task-management skills is a better use of your energy than getting upset at the person when he or she can’t deliver!
Ensure commitment. Thank your Yes Person for
communicating openly with you and ask how he or
she will approach the situation differently next time.
In future projects, make sure the Yes Person is
committed at the beginning. Have him or her summarize the project to demonstrate an understanding of what’s involved. Write the commitment down.
You may even come up with memorable deadlines
to ensure that the timeframe will stick. Finally, be
sure to describe the negative consequences should
your Yes Person fail to deliver.
Strengthen the relationship. Look at every interaction as a chance to strengthen the relationship. Make an event out of every completed commitment and
see mistakes and broken promises as an opportunity to help the Yes Person develop his or her skills. Adjust your attitude:
Don’t place blame: Blaming the Yes Person will
simply make him or her ashamed, the behavior will
continue as the person promises you anything he or
she thinks will placate you.
Be patient: Recognize that your Yes Person is
lacking organizational skills and is unable to recognize or ﬁx this without help. Once you’ve helped the Yes Person develop task skills, his or her helpful
nature will make that person the best teammate you
could hope for.
Help with task management: Ask the Yes Person to
explain the basics of the project, the tasks involved,
and any negative consequences if he or she doesn’t
meet the commitment. Then, help him or her plan
toward the deadlines, to establish a timeframe.
“To please people and avoid confrontations,
Yes People say ‘Yes’ without thinking things
through. They react to the latest demands on their
time by forgetting prior commitments and overcommit until they have no time for themselves. Then they become resentful.”
፬ Cope with the Maybe
፬ Bring out the best in
the Maybe Person
Decisive people know that every decision has a
downside and an upside and are able to weigh these
possibilities as they make the best decision possible.
Maybe People, by contrast, are unable to make decisions, especially when the consequences of their decisions could affect other people in a way that
might lose them approval. So they put off the difficult decision, hoping that a better choice will come up. Unfortunately, with most decisions there comes
a point when it’s too late to choose: the decision
Maybe People have plenty of reasons for not getting help; they don’t want to bother or upset anyone and they don’t want to be the cause of anything going wrong. Your goal when dealing with a Maybe
Person is to give him or her a strategy for making
decisions and the motivation to use it. Here are ﬁve
steps to bring out the best in your Maybe Person.
Establish a comfort zone. When you’re dealing
with people in the get along quadrant, your best bet
is to develop a comfort zone around the decisionmaking process. Take your
time. Reassure the Maybe Person that you believe relationships are
improved by open communication.
Surface conﬂicts and clarify options. Patiently
explore, from the Maybe Person’s point of view, all
of the options and obstacles involved in the decision. Listen for words of hesitation like “probably,” “that could be,” and “I think so” as signals to
explore more deeply. If the person is worried about
how you will feel should he or she decide something, provide reassurance that you will be ﬁne and it won’t adversely affect your relationship.
Use a decision-making process. If you have a
process that works well for you, teach it to your
problem person. It could be as simple as listing with
him or her all the pluses and minuses of each of the
possibilities. Seeing these in a concrete form may
make the strongest choice more obvious.
Reassure and follow through. Once the decision
has been made, reassure the Maybe Person that
there are no perfect decisions and that his or her
decision is a good one. Then stay in touch until the
decision is implemented.
Strengthen the relationship. Take a few moments
from time to time to listen to the Maybe Person’s
concerns and help him or her learn the decisionmaking process whenever the opportunity arises. With patient investment, the Maybe Person may
become one of your most dependable decision
Adjust your attitude:
Don’t push the Maybe Person: Irritation, impatience, or anger will simply make the decision that much more difficult.
Be patient: If your Maybe Person feels pressured,
he or she won’t be able to relax and think clearly.
Stay calm: Intensity or intimidation will drive
Maybe People deeper into their wishy-washy behavior. Even if you can force a decision, they will probably change their minds as soon as they’re pressured by someone with a different agenda.
“In a moment of decision, the Maybe Person
procrastinates in the hope that a better choice will
present itself. Sadly, with most decisions, there
comes a point when it is too little, too late, and the
decision makes itself.”
፬ Cope with the Nothing
፬ Bring out the best in
the Nothing Person
People are passive, but can be taskfocused or people-focused depending on their intent—get it right or get along. When the intent to
get along is threatened, shy people tend to withdraw and become ever more passive. When get it right Nothing People see their quest for perfection
thwarted, they get frustrated and withdraw, convinced that nothing will change the situation, no matter what they say or do.
Although Nothing People seem to withdraw from
conﬂict, inside they can be boiling cauldrons of hostility. Silence can be their form of aggression. Your goal with a Nothing Person is to break this silence and
persuade him or her to talk. Here is a sureﬁre ﬁve-step
process to break your Nothing Person’s silence.
Plan enough time. Dealing successfully with a
Nothing Person may take a long time. If you’re tense
because of time constraints, you may be too intense
to draw him or her out. The more intense you get,
the deeper the Nothing Person withdraws into nothing. So pick the time and place for approaching your Nothing Person so that you have the time it takes.
Ask open-ended questions expectantly. The best
question for a Nothing Person is one that can’t be
answered with a yes, a no, or a grunt. Ask questions
that begin with a “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” or “How” to open up topics for discussion. Make
sure that your non-verbal communication is also
asking for a response. You must look and sound like
you’re about to get an answer. We call this the
“expectant look”—and it works.
Lighten it up. When nothing else is working, a little humor can go a long way. Making absurd, exaggerated, and impossible guesses as to the cause of the silence has cracked the armor of some of the
most intransigent Nothing People.
Guess. If your Nothing Person still isn’t responding,
try putting yourself in his or her shoes and thinking
back over the course of events as to what that person might be feeling. Start talking out loud, rattling off possibilities whether they seem plausible or far
out. It doesn’t matter. If you can hit on or near the
reason for the silence, the person will ﬁgure the jig
is up and he or she might as well start talking. If you
don’t come close, the Nothing Person may ﬁgure
you don’t have a clue and feel compelled to tell you
what is going on.
Show the future. Sometimes the only way to get
Nothing People talking is to take them out of the
moment and show them the consequences of their
continued silence. Don’t make idle threats, but be
clear about how their behavior could damage the
project or your relationship.
Adjust your attitude:
Slow down: The biggest challenge with a
Nothing Person is to ﬁnd the time to deal with him
or her. To get something from a Nothing Person,
you must be calm and relaxed.
Understand the intent: Nothing People can be
task-focused, if their intent is to get it right, or people-focused, if their intent is to get along. Determine what matters.
Avoid getting angry: Your Nothing Person is trying to avoid conﬂict and disapproval. Getting angry will simply push a Nothing Person deeper into his
or her nothingness.
“No verbal feedback, no nonverbal feedback.
Nothing. What else could you expect from … the
፬ Cope with the No Person
፬ Bring out the best in
the No Person
The No Person is task-focused, motivated by the
intent to get it right by avoiding mistakes. Perfection
is his or her standard: when shortcomings get in the
way, the No Person despairs and ﬁnds negatives in
everyone and everything.
When dealing with a No Person, your task is to
move from fault ﬁnding toward problem solving. It
may be impossible to stop the ﬂood of negativity completely, but you may be able to turn the tide. Here are ﬁve steps to dealing successfully with a No Person.
Go with the ﬂow. The worst thing you can do with
No People is to try to convince them that things
aren’t as bad as they think they are. The ﬁrst step in
dealing with No People is to allow them to be as
negative as they want to be.
Use them as a resource. No People can serve two
valuable purposes in your life. First, they can be
your personal character builders. If you want to
build strength, you lift heavy weights. If you want to
build a positive attitude, spend some time being
positive with a No Person.
No People can also serve as an early warning system. Amid the negativity, there are often grains of truth. The No Person is sometimes aware of substantial problems that others have overlooked. We know of one company that has a No Person on its
executive staff. By running every new plan by her,
they often ﬁnd ﬂaws that might otherwise have been
Leave the door open. No People tend to operate in
a different time reality from other people. Any effort
to rush them may actually slow them down. The wisest course of action with No People is to give them time to think, and leave the door open so that they
can come back in when they’re ready.
Go for the polarity response. Sometimes, you can
turn the tables on your No Person by suggesting the
negative alternatives before he or she does. In such
cases, No People may respond positively—either
because they’re convinced by your approach that
you’re dealing with the problem realistically or
because they’re so incurably negative that they want
to prove you wrong even if they agree with you.
Acknowledge their good intent. Assume and project good intent onto negative behavior, like 90
“Thanks for pointing out problems so we can all
come up with solutions” or “I appreciate that you
want this to be right.” Through Pygmalion Power,
the No Person may come to believe it. This can lead
the person to use his or her analytical perfectionism
in a more constructive—and less difficult—way.
Adjust your attitude:
Maintain your perspective: There’s usually some
bad history involved when people behave negatively.
You don’t need to know what the circumstances are,
but try to keep the No Person’s actions in perspective.
Be patient: It may sometimes appear that
changes take place at a snail’s pace. But if you are
patient, there are few things as gratifying as people
conquering their negative behavior.
Appreciate the No Person: He or she may bring
up points worth considering, if you’re wise enough
to sort through the negativity. Just because the No
Person goes to extremes doesn’t mean that he or
she is wrong.
“More deadly to morale than a speeding bullet,
more powerful than hope, able to defeat big ideas
with a single syllable. Disguised as a mild-mannered normal person, the No Person ﬁghts a never-ending battle for futility, hopelessness, and
፬ Cope with the Whiner
፬ Bring out the best in
While some complaining can be therapeutic for
the complainer, and some can even be helpful to the
listener, lots of complaining is simply wallowing.
This is the Whiner’s specialty. The Whiner’s complaints have little to do with stress relief and are rarely helpful. Whiners are cousins to the No
People, in the sense that their actions also emerge
from the intent to get it right. But while they have a
sense that things should be different, they have no
idea how this should happen. So instead of taking
action, they whine.
Your goal with Whiners is to form a problemsolving alliance. (And if this doesn’t work, your revised goal is to get them to go away!) The best
thing you can do for people who feel helpless when
they encounter difficulty is to diminish their helplessness, by working with them to identify solutions. 93
Here are ﬁve action steps to work successfully with
Listen for the main points. Listening to a Whiner
complain is probably the last thing you want to do.
But it’s a crucial ﬁrst step. You may even want to
take notes. This proves to the Whiner that you’re listening and it will
ensure that you recognize the complaint if the Whiner tries to recycle it.
Interrupt and get speciﬁc. Take command of the
conversation and ask clariﬁcation questions to get
the speciﬁcs of the problem. If your Whiner isn’t
able to be speciﬁc, suggest that he or she go out and
gather more information.
Shift the focus to solutions. Because Whiners
often complain in vague generalizations, they don’t
usually look at problems long enough to start thinking about solutions. Asking them what they want can start to move their minds in an entirely new
Show them the future. When people feel helpless,
it’s constructive to give them something to look forward to. Offer to set up a meeting with the person they’re complaining about or simply set a time to
discuss the problem further. You may ﬁnd it helpful
to suggest that they come back to you with possible
solutions within a speciﬁc time frame.
Draw the line. If the previous steps haven’t produced a real change, it may become necessary to draw the line. If your Whiner begins the cycle of
complaints again, shut him or her down. Make it
clear that talking about problems without solutions
isn’t a good use of your time … or anyone’s.
Adjust your attitude:
Don’t agree or disagree with Whiners: If you
agree, it simply encourages them to keep whining.
If you disagree, they may feel compelled to repeat
Don’t try to solve Whiners’ problems: You won’t
be able to solve their problems for them; you’ll
need their participation.
Don’t ask Whiners why they’re complaining:
They’ll simply see this as an invitation to start over
from the beginning.
“Whiners feel helpless and overwhelmed by
an unfair world. Their standard is perfection, and
no one and nothing measures up to it. But misery
loves company, so they bring their problems to
you. Offering solutions makes you bad company,
so their whining escalates.”
፬ Wait until there’s a
፬ Take the ﬁrst three
The communication lessons in this book are not
intended to be a quick ﬁx, but a path to long-term
solutions for problems in human relationships. The
longer it takes for a problem to develop, the more
time and energy you must invest in turning things
around. As you begin to apply these attitudes and
strategies, chances are that you will have some easy
successes … and some unsuccessful efforts. More
important than “winning” or “losing,” though, is
having more choices, opportunities, and alternatives to suffering. You can now empower yourself to be the cause of what happens next, rather than the
victim of what others have done.
Difficult people are a part of every person’s life.
They’ve been here since the beginning of time—
Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of
running away, blaming, withdrawing. But with commitment and perseverance, each of us can do our part to reduce misunderstandings and eliminate the
conﬂicts that plague the earth. And without becoming too grandiose, we think it’s fair to say that the future of humanity depends on each of us learning
how to stand each other, in spite of our differences.
Though you can’t directly change anyone else,
your ﬂexibility and knowledge can help people to
change themselves. So the next time you’re dealing
with someone you can’t stand, remember this: Life
is not a test, it’s an actual emergency. Good luck!
Here are a few simple action steps you can take
Resolve to become an effective communicator:
Make it your goal to become an effective communicator; take advantage of all available opportunities to practice and perfect these techniques. Pay attention! Whether you’re watching a movie or attending a meeting, you’ll ﬁnd lots of examples of people
using or failing to use the skills and strategies in this
Find a communication partner: Team up with
communication partners who are as eager to learn
as you are. Share resources (like this book) with
your partners so that you’ll have a common language in your discussions. Meet once a week to discuss what you’ve observed, learned, and tried dur98
ing the preceding week. More than any other action
you can take, regular meetings with communication
partners can remind you to pay attention, while
keeping you focused on developing and improving
Count your blessings! If you have the luxury of
reading this book, you’re already better off than perhaps 80% of the earth’s population. You probably have a roof over your head, sufficient food, people
you care about, and some who care about you. Life
is difficult enough without ﬁlling yourself with negativity and wasting your life force on worry and stress. If you remember to count your blessings
today and everyday, then you’ll have the strength
and focus to enjoy the challenges presented by difﬁcult people.
“While you can’t change difficult people, you
can communicate with them in such a way that
they change themselves. It’s a matter of knowing
how to get through to them when they’re behaving
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“If you work with people who
are difficult, there is both good news
and bad news. The bad news is you
work with them. The good news is you
have time to study them, understand the
patterns of their behavior, and plan
your strategic response.”
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“Think of dealing with problem people
like going to the gym. They are giving
you a workout of your communication
muscles! Although you may not always
get the result you want, the strength
you build from the effort may be exactly
what you need to preserve some other
relationship that truly matters to you.”
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“What is the secret to communication
effectiveness with difficult people?
Flexibility. Flexibility means having more
than one option. If what you’re doing
isn’t working, do something else, or
do something differently. Anything you
do differently increases the likelihood
of your success.”
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Other Titles in the
The Welch Way: 24 Lessons from the World’s Greatest CEO
by Jeffrey A. Krames (0-07-138750-1)
The Lombardi Rules: 26 Lessons from Vince Lombardi—the
World’s Greatest Coach
by Vince Lombardi, Jr. (0-07-141108-9)
How to Motivate Every Employee: 24 Proven Tactics to Spark
Productivity in the Workplace
by Anne Bruce (0-07-141333-2)
The New Manager’s Handbook: 24 Lessons for Mastering Your
by Morey Stettner (0-07-141334-0)
The Handbook for Leaders: 24 Lessons for Extraordinary
by John H. Zenger and Joseph Folkman (0-07-143532-8)
Leadership When the Heat’s On: 24 Lessons in High
by Danny Cox with John Hoover (0-07-141406-1)
How to Manage Performance: 24 Lessons for Improving
by Robert Bacal (0-07-143531-X)
Dealing with Difficult People: 24 Lessons for Bringing Out the Best in Everyone
by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner
How to Be a Great Coach: 24 Lessons for Turning on the
Productivity of Every Employee
by Marshall J. Cook (0-07-143529-8)
Making Teams Work: 24 Lessons for Working Together
by Michael Maginn (0-07-143530-1)
Why Customers Don’t Do What You Want Them to Do:
24 Solutions to Overcoming Common Selling Problems
by Ferdinand Fournies (0-07-141750-8)
The Sales Success Handbook: 20 Lessons to Open and Close
by Linda Richardson (0-07-141636-6)
About the Authors
Dr. Rick Kirschner and Dr. Rick Brinkman are worldrenowned professional speakers and trainers. They are the coauthors of the bestselling audio- and videotape series How to Deal with Difficult People and have authored six other audio and video training programs. Their book Dealing with People You Can’t Stand is an international bestseller, now available in
a revised second edition with translations in 15 languages. They wrote the entertaining and practical sequel Dealing with Relatives: Your Guide to
Successful Family Relationships and they coauthored
the book Life by Design, Making Wise Choices in a
Mixed Up World. They now present their entertaining
keynote speeches and training programs worldwide.
Their client portfolio includes AT&T, HewlettPackard, the Inc. 500 Conference, Young Presidents Organization, the U.S. Army, and hundreds of other
corporations, government agencies, medical conferences, educational groups, and professional associations.
For information about Dr. Kirschner’s keynotes
and seminars, visit www.QuickChangeArtist.com. For
information about Dr. Brinkman’s keynotes and seminars, visit www.RickBrinkman.com. To learn more about their work together, visit www.TheRicks.com.