Dealing with Difficult People… or are they?

snakeRecently, I had a relatively young (at this stage of my life, it seems most people are in this category) project manager come to me and say, “In all of my projects, I have to deal with so many difficult people! What can I do about them?”

Of course, this complaint is not too unusual. There are just so many difficult people out there, we are just bound to run into them on our projects — right?

There is another way to look at it. If I am running into difficult people on every project, what is the common denominator? It just might be me.

There is a story about two monks, one older and one quite young, who encounter a beautifully-dressed young woman standing by a stream. The woman is clearly upset and indicates a need to get to the other side. Without missing a step, the older monk picks her up in his arms and carries her to the other side.

As the two monks continue walking, the younger monk becomes more and more upset, Finally, after several miles, he cannot stand it and blurts out, “What were you thinking? We take a vow to stay away from women, yet you carried this pretty woman!” The first monk responds very calmly, “I let her go long ago. Why do you still carry her?”

I think sometimes we can get riled up and focus on things that are not that big a deal. After all, “difficult people” are not difficult all the time… or, even most of the time. Most of the time, most people are just doing the work. So, we should let some things go and that gives us more time and energy to focus on the important things.

Sometimes the important thing can be a “difficult” person. Let’s take a look at that one in a little different way next time.


3 thoughts on “Dealing with Difficult People… or are they?”

  1. I often find myself thinking in situations with difficult people “Am I the problem here?”.

    I don’t think it is a case of you or them, but more the relationship you have or start to build if you have just met them. The difficulty is how the 2 interact, rather than being inherit in one person.

    I have seen people charm the socks off “difficult” people but then struggle with who you think is an easy customer.

    So it’s all relative really.

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    Years ago I went to a training class on how to deal with difficult people. The instructor asked everyone to say why they were there. We all had stories of the type of difficult person we wanted to learn to deal with. One man insisted he had no idea why he was there other than his boss had insisted he attend. He indicated he had no problem with difficult people. It was clear to us that he was the “difficult person” and his boss had hope he might gain that insight. I have no idea if he learned that day that he was the difficult person but whenever I’m having difficulties with someone, I remember my classmate and stop and think “Am I the difficult person here?”

  3. As someone who has been privileged to work with you, Alan, I am glad to have the chance to say that you live your message! I am grateful for the many times you have quickly let go of any irritation or resentment you may have had toward me during our working relationship (I’m sure there have been times!). Thank you for modeling the way. As a result of your blog I was inspired today to let go of a resentment I’ve been holding on to for several years. I feel free! Thank you for the gift of your blog to remind me to “Let go!” I’m reminded of a lesson that said “Being resentful is like drinking poison in hopes that it will kill your enemies.” Indeed! Tonight I’ll get a better night’s sleep thanks to your insightful blog.

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