CommunicationDifficult people

Dealing with difficult people

By June 25, 2019July 25th, 2019No Comments
PHOTO CREDIT: Stock Unlimited

In this extended article, I have merged several of my blogs to provide you with an easy-to-read article on how to handle and deal with a variety of difficult people. Pull out the bits that are relevant to your situation and let me know in the COMMENTS BELOW what tips and suggestions you decide to apply.

Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to human nature, though these suggestions below have worked for many and should get you well on your way. The following deals both with handling difficult people and those are great skills to have both in the workplace and your personal life.

PS: Want more tips on self-care and how to flip a negative event into a positive outcome? Check out my new book, THE FINKELSTEIN FACTOR: What to do when things go wrong … because you know they will (sigh). I’ll walk you through a series of thought-provoking questions and exercises to flip your mindset and outcomes into positive ones.

When you feel attacked, share the LUVSTM

PHOTO CREDIT: Stock Unlimited

Listen up … even when you don’t want to. It happens to the best of us. You’re in a meeting presenting your project updates, you feel in control and confident, and then it starts. The peppering of questions. The barrage of complaints. The aggressive body language. It spirals into a frenzy and others around the table start chiming in with their two cents worth. Perhaps even your own teammates add fuel to the fire. The result? You feel attacked.

It’s difficult to maintain composure under such circumstances, wouldn’t you agree? It all begins with how you think, what you say and what you do. Here are a few tips to get you on your way, and to regain the composure and control that really belongs to you. I call it the “LUVSTM” approach and it stands for “Listen, Understand, Validate, Solve”. Here’s how it works.


People want to be heard. Sometimes people start pumping up the volume, animating the gestures and increasing the forcefulness of their language, simply because they feel they aren’t being heard. So listen. When you actively listen, you allow people to express themselves and yes, to vent. Strip out the emotion and hear the questions and concern they’re really asking. What’s at the crux of their frustration? If you have information that will allay their concerns, give it to them. Answer their questions.


As difficult as it might be, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask yourself why they might be feeling that way. You might not agree with it, you might respond in a completely different way, but there’s always a reason why people feel and behave the way they do. Find theirs.


Let me be clear here — validating people’s concern doesn’t mean that you agree with them. It’s simply acknowledging that you understand and appreciate how or why someone would think the way he or she does. The thinking may be horribly flawed, not make sense, and not serve the person well — it simply underpins the words and actions of that person. To validate a concern can be as simple as actively listening. Or, it can be saying things like, “I can see why it might appear that way”, or “I see”.


Lots of energy is spent by someone being aggressive. Take that energy and re-channel it to solving problems. Focus on the overall goals. Raise the conversation to higher ground and perspective. Look at the “big picture” and what this person (and perhaps you also) really wants to accomplish. Spend your limited energy and theirs on finding solutions.

Here’s the point …

When you feel attacked, it’s difficult to be rational. However, if you really value or need that relationship, let your head rule. Listen, validate, understand, and solve, and you’ll find that often aggression will give way to cooperation. Go ahead, and give it a try–the world could do with a little more LUVSTM.

When your boss plays favorites … and you’re not it

Every now and then I get a message from a colleague that really resonates with a lot of people. She contacted me explaining that her boss is playing favorites with this one woman. My colleague didn’t know why it was happening and was desperate for some tips on how to handle the situation. 

This topic ties in so nicely with a book I’m currently drafting called, The Finkelstein Factor (what to do when things go wrong … because you know they will)–you’ll hear more about that book soon. I snitched a couple of the mindset principles suggested in that book and I decided to do a live Facebook video on this subject (Come to visit me at In case you’d like to view it, here you go. If you’d like additional tips and the information in written form, I continue this article below the video. I get the fact that people prefer to receive information differently, so whichever communication vehicle works for you. Either way, please post your comments and let me know which tip you find most useful… and whether you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation.

Begin with the emotion.

There’s a critical question to ask before you take action. The first step, and one this is often sadly overlooked, is to ask yourself, “why does this hurt so much?” What is it that you feel you’re losing? What are you missing out on?

Maybe you think you’re being overlooked by your boss for interesting projects or more responsibility. Perhaps this whole incident brings up feelings of insecurity and self-doubt causing you to wonder if you’re doing something wrong–by the way, you’re likely not, it’s maybe just that you’re missing doing enough of the “right” things.

What is the emotion that’s moving you to discomfort? Put words around it. Think about it, hard. Define it. Talk it over with a confidante, a good friend, an honest sounding board, and someone with whom you feel safe and can be completely honest with, warts and all. Only after you’ve dealt with this piece do you dare to move forward to the next steps.

PS: This first step of describing the pain is one of the approaches discussed in my recent book, The Finkelstein Factor: What to do when things go wrong … because you know they will (sigh).


Become a detective and notice the interaction between your boss and his or her favorite. For now, put the emotion and hurt aside completely. You’re in a neutral mode and observing the interaction and dynamics. You are a fly on the wall.

What is it that the fave is doing that you’re not? Maybe it’s the frequency of communication–do they chat much more than you do? Perhaps it’s the type of communication and topic–does the fave take an interest in the boss’s personal life? Ask questions about the boss’s family or latest vacation or hobby? Or it could be the way in which the fave connects with the boss that is so very different from you. Maybe he provides verbal updates along with the written reports because he knows the boss likes to be briefed in person. Whatever the differences, find out what they are and you can likely guess what the next step is …

Change what you do.

You are now ready to put all that great detective work to practice. You’ve noted the differences between your behavior and that of the fave and now is the opportunity for you to adopt some of the practices that you know your boss appreciates.

Consider the frequency of communication between you and your boss. Are you connecting often enough? Do you ever initiate the conversations? What about the depth and duration of your communications–are you providing too many or too few details? Is the vehicle the one your boss enjoys the most? The one thing for sure is that your boss is time-pressed, so if you’re not sure, follow the lead of the fave or simply ask your boss what works best for him or her. Change how you think and what you do, and you’ll change your results. Here are a couple of surefire actions that will grab your boss’s attention:

  • Be proactive. Anticipate what your boss needs and do or give it before it’s asked
  • Treat your boss like a human being. Take an interest in their interests. Ask about their hobbies and what they enjoy. Offer to grab him or her a coffee when you’re going to get one for yourself.
  • Get some face time. If it’s crazy during the day, notice the hours your boss works and catch him or her when no one else is around–early morning or late day.


Okay, I’m sure you’re saying, “No way, Marion! I don’t want to be a braggart and know-it-all”. Let me be clear, that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. That approach won’t serve you or anyone. Instead, come from a place of service and raise your profile at the same time.

  • Take the initiative and request a meeting with the boss to explore ideas to a problem consuming a lot of everyone’s resources
  • Propose ideas and share your suggestions (even if not asked)
  • Proactively share updates on your projects (before the boss asks)
  • Observe deadlines and beat them if you can (that’s a WOW that will get you noticed)

Emulate your boss.

There is a technique in body language called, “mirroring and matching”. It’s really about reflecting people’s speech patterns and body movements to be more in tune with them. Please note, this doesn’t mean mimic the person or make it so obvious it’s ridiculous and not authentic. What it does mean is noting the pace of someone’s speech and more closely matching it. If your boss is a fast talker, then you speed up your talk a bit. If she’s super animated, then you introduce a few more gestures into your body language. People connect more closely with others in whom they see a little bit of themselves. Adjusting your communication style to mitigate the gap between yours and theirs is a way to build a bridge so you can more readily meet in the middle.

Find a mentor.

Many studies support the benefits of getting a mentor. In fact, those same studies often proclaim benefit to the mentee as well. It’s a win-win. And here’s the kicker–your mentor could even be the current favorite of the boss! Depending on your relationship with him or her, you may be able to sit down and openly discuss strategies that work best for the best. This is especially effective if you acknowledge and commend the relationship the fave has managed to forge with the boss. Ask for advice. There are few compliments as great and if the fave is a big person, he will gladly give you a few pointers. Come from a place of service, after all, you only want to help the boss, right?

I’d love to hear your comments below. Tell me which tip would you use. Which one or ones really resonated with you or if you’ve already used, to what effect? Best wishes with your boss and remember, some people are just impossible to connect with. Try everything you can, take responsibility for what you control, and ultimately, you can always vote with your feet and leave. 

Ask for what you need

Some time ago, I was coaching a team and sharing results from a questionnaire I’d developed and they’d fill in. When rating their areas where they wanted to improve, the number one thing that popped up was, “learning how to ask for help”. Wow. That was an eye-opener for many around the table.

Asking for help is tough, isn’t it? You fear appearing incompetent and you don’t want people to realize you feel like a big fake because you don’t know something they figure you should. You keep on telling yourself that someone could cope, why can’t I? Well, here’s a lightbulb moment — people who ask for help often get it. Those who don’t suffer silently (or heaven forbid, not so silently).

Here are some tips below on how to ask for help effectively.

Don’t whine.

No one wants to hear the “oh poor me” story. Present the details factually and drop the sob story.

Make sure you’re “WIIFM”:

If you’re not “WIIFM”, you’re ag’in ’em! WIFFM stands for “what’s in it for me”. When you’re asking someone for something tell them what’s in it for THEM if they help you. Give them a reason, an incentive, an excuse to buy into your visions and request. They don’t care about what’s in it for you because they’re not you.

Make it a trial.

When you’re asking for a commitment, make it bite-size. It’s easier for someone to commit to a short-term, love-investment idea. It lowers their risk factor and feels more comfortable for them. This really works. As a Director Communications, I had a boss who refused to approve me hiring an administrative assistant.

My team and I were being pulled away from core duties and drowning in all the administrative burden. My several requests to hire an admin professional fell upon deaf ears.

Finally, a colleague suggested to me to hire a “term”. The idea of a 6-month commitment was way easier to sell and the very first time I pitched this idea, my boss approved. After the six months, it became obvious that the admin help was priceless (as every great admin person — and savvy boss — already know). What began as a temporary fix became a permanent solution. Asking for a smaller commitment is instrumental in getting the larger one.

Be blatant. 

Subtlety is wasted on most people. Know exactly what you need and ask for it. A few years ago, a friend of mine called to say she was bringing over a few rented movies (yes, that was back in the day when video stores rented out CDs). She had mentioned in passing that it was the last night of her high school’s year-end play. After dinner. I asked if she wanted to watch the movie and she, again casually, mentioned that play.

Upon prodding, poking and probing on my part (eeks, too much work!), I managed to extract from her that she had really wanted to see that play. Unfortunately, it was too late in the night, the play was already started and it was too late for her to speak up.

Don’t make the same mistake. Don’t miss an opportunity to do what you want. Let the other person know your true preference. Be authentic and honest. Then others can make informed decisions based on truth and not what you think they want to hear. Know that me communicating with this person was pure agony. I never knew what she was really thinking because she was so passive in all aspects of her life, including her communication. Be tactful, truthful and blatant. 

You deserve to have your needs heard and met and the first step to that is giving them a voice. This week, I challenge you to try something different — ask for something that you need. Speak up when you normally would remain silent. It’s true that you might not get what you want even if you ask, but chances are you definitely won’t if you don’t.
So why not improve your odds and ask? I’m just asking …

What to do when someone walks all over you

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Ever felt like you’ve been stepped on? Someone crosses a line and walks right over you. Sometimes they’re completely oblivious of having insulted or offended, which in a perverse way is even more offensive. Other times, they know they’ve hurt and they’ve either intended to do so or just don’t care.

Whatever the reason, someone stepping all over you isn’t allowed. There may be lots of psychological reasons for the offender to have behaved the way he or she did, but that’s an explanation, not an excuse. There is none. It’s never acceptable behaviour.

How do you respond when someone crushes you?

You have one of three choices: 1) be aggressive and attack  2) be passive and don’t respond, or  3) be assertive and get your voice heard. No doubt, you know that assertiveness is the way to go — it’s the most productive and professional response and the one that likely has the greatest probably of getting the results you want. But knowing that you want to say something and knowing what to say are two very distinct things.

TIP: In a difficult situation, use “I” statements.

“I” statements are among the most powerful you can make, both for yourself and others. It removes an accusatory tone and helps others refrain from getting their backs up. When they do that, they’re more prone to be in “listen mode” and actually hear what you’re saying. 

For example, instead of saying, “You asked me to work late again”, you could say, “This week, I was asked to work late three times”. Different tone, right? It’s more neutral and doesn’t sting of finger-waving.

To express your interpretation and understanding of a situation, the use of “I” is again effective. Instead of telling someone what they’re thinking by saying, “You think I’m incompetent”, you could say, “I have the feeling you don’t have confidence in my work. How could I change that?”  That follow-up question is another great example of using the power of “I”. This wording launches into a productive conversation where you assume responsibility for your role in the situation instead of pointing fingers at others for what they did.

Closing a discussion with future actions and next steps always leaves everyone on an up note and forward looking. Here too, the word “I” comes into play. Instead of saying, “You should finish that report”, you could say, “I want you to finish that report by end of day Monday. That will give me Tuesday to review it”.

Next time you want to assert yourself and aren’t sure quite what to say, give the “I” statements a go, because when it comes to being assertive, the “I”s have it every time.

Don’t punch your lousy boss. Do THIS instead.

Have you ever had a terrible supervisor you weren’t sure how to handle? Or maybe you have one now? This person makes going into the office or workplace an absolute drag. You dread dragging yourself out of bed only to face more of his or her ridiculous behavior, you are so unhappy and at your wit’s end. You have dreams of physically giving him or her a good ol’ wallop. (I can assure you, that’s not the answer).

Not too many years ago, I was in the same boat. In fact, I’ve been in that boat a few times during my 30-plus year career. I was searching desperately for a lifesaver. In the process, I found some gems that help me stay head and shoulders above the current of negativity. Here are some highlights that will help you relive the stress you feel when dealing with a horrible boss.

Weigh your options.

Decide whether it’s worse to speak or remain silent. Think 20 years down the road. Which will you regret more — that you spoke out or said nothing? Neither option is right or wrong. Depends on you and the circumstances.

If you do decide to speak up, do it the right way. Choose a neutral territory (not your office or his/hers) and a time when you’re not rushed and is mutually convenient. Use neutral, non-accusatory language.

Understand that everyone behaves as they do for a reason. Sometimes, it’s a particular incident going on in someone’s life that spills over to the workplace on a one-time basis. If, however, it’s an ongoing, chronic problem that the supervision is terrible, it’s likely not due to an isolated incident. It could be just a dysfunctional personality type with anger issues or even lack of training.

Get training. 

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching your boss and speaking up, seek out assertiveness training. Go to a counselor or communication coach, read books, surf the net, go to a workshop

Document the flare-ups. 

Take note of dates, what was said and what witnesses were there. Doing so provides substance to your concerns and shows that it’s a pattern. Even if you do nothing with those notes, sometimes journaling helps release the frustration and helps you find your way to a solution that works for you.

Consider going to Human Resources. 

It’s always a good place to start as HR may be able to offer some concrete suggestions. It is also a way to have your concerns documented. However, remember: HR works for management. Don’t expect their full loyalties to rest with only you.

Pick a confidante. 

Generally, it’s best not to confide in workmates — it gets too complicated. If you just need to vent, that’s what girlfriend and martinis, or guy friends and beer and pizza nights are for. If you’re looking for a solution and to act, kvetching with your friends isn’t going to be the answer

Here are some highlights of my personal experience with a bully boss, what he did to stress me out, and what I did to alleviate that stress.

My experience with a bully boss:

When I was in my early thirties, I was working for a bully boss who managed by intimidation. He would either be calm, polite, and absolutely charming or explosive, bombastic, and aggressive, spitting out words, publicly humiliating employees and ruling by fear.

I waited for a quiet and private moment to speak to him. As his Director Communication, I caught that moment during a flight when we were seated beside each other. I said, “I want to speak to you from a communication perspective. You have a lot of great messages that the employees need and want to hear. Unfortunately, however, the way it’s delivered is such that people will remember the communication vehicle, not the message. That isn’t serving you or your employees well.”

After this, he seemed to calm down his behaviour for a bit. I coupled this with seeking out a counselor/coach for myself, listening to related training lessons on tape (yes, it was tape decks back then, lol), and lots of reading on the topic.

The end result?

I changed what I could, accepted what I couldn’t change, and ultimately voted with my feet when I left the job. But not before I wrote each Director on the Board to advise of this top guy’s management style and how he treated his team. This launched a full study by the organization, media attention to the issue, and ultimately, the removal of this cancer and his sidekick from the organization.

If you’re in a sea of stress and need a lifesaver, give some of those tips I mentioned above a try. Your situation won’t last forever, especially if you commit to a decision to flip your attitude, your response … or your boss. You have that power. Use it.

Marion’s latest book, THE FINKELSTEIN FACTOR. Got yours?

Want more tips on how to flip a negative situation to a positive outcome? Check out my book, THE FINKELSTEIN FACTOR: What to do when things go wrong … because you know they will (sigh)

Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.

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