Dealing With Difficult People (personal coaching/workshop)

Dealing With Difficult People



Long before you find yourself having a difficult time dealing with a particular person there are usually many (seemingly) minor interactions that have taken place to help create an atmosphere of mistrust, anger, resistance, or aggression. Were we better observers we would more easily spot the symptoms of a brewing problem and solve it. Because of the pressure most of are under, we frequently lose sight of how best to communicate in favor of what we think is faster. I remember the response I got when suggesting to a Senior Minister who called me (because of what he thought was the beginning of a staff revolt) to find some things he could say to help him avoid a difficult situation from getting worse. His staff had told him they felt he was indifferent to their needs and that he was condescending and bossy. His response was interesting and went as follows:


“I don’t have time to babysit my staff. I expect them to accept responsibility and criticism like adults. If I have to tiptoe around all my staff and ministers, I might as well get rid if them and do everything myself.”


His statement quickly informed me that his situation would be getting a lot worse if his view of leadership remained the same.


Some things you need to consider:


1. Unless you are talking to a fellow senior minister, the emotion in your voice or lack of it is two to five time louder than it would be were you not a minister. The mood, tenor, speed and degree of warmth take on special meaning and may be heard more loudly and clearly than your words. If you are pressured, in a hurry, angry, upset, or appear cold, your words, if heard at all, will have little to no meaning and may be profoundly distorted.


2. People you talk to will have a longer memory of your conversation than you will. They go over it, dissect it, and share it with others of like mind and experience. They archive each conversation, and after collecting several conversations, make a number of assumptions about you, and how you communicate. In time individuals come to believe whatever version they have is true and has not been distorted, when in fact, it has been, based on their perspective and pre-existing beliefs.











                                  A Few Nitti-Gritty Rules


People are always more upset than they say they are.


Think about one of your own upsets. Has your upset caused you to lose sleep? Has it made you question your value? Has an upset distracted you from nearly everything to which you normally give your attention? Have you found yourself going over and over the upset? Have you confided in others in order to try to get a better handle on the problem? Have you had an argument with someone else because you were upset?


When you are upset there is fallout and you know it. So why am I telling you? Because remembering this will help you shape your response to the next person coming to you with an upset. When John comes to me and says:


“I am upset about the way you spoke to me in class last night, I thought you were very abrupt and cut me off.”


I need to give as much attention to his emotional state as to the content of his complaint. Too often we try to minimize emotions. We reassure, try to explain, and offer to fix the problem before our client has even finished their complaint. Or we defend our actions and attempt to invalidate the upset and the content of the complaint.


So what can you say?


“John, I am very glad you came to see me. If I were in the same situation, I would probably be a good deal more upset than you seem to be. In the past I have lost sleep over things like this. It takes courage to set aside some of your feelings to come talk me, I really appreciate that.”


This response may seem “over the top,” but it isn’t. Your response needs to match what you believe to be the real and often unspoken emotional climate of the upset. When there is a match, the person complaining has a chance to feel emotionally validated. When that happens the person complaining may no longer feel the need to convince you they have a valid problem. Until you have done this, you will notice the person bringing the complaint just wants to go over and over and over it. If you do not respond to the emotional content, you may notice that each time the person goes over “what happened,” they get more and more upset.






Join With The Person


In order to overcome the adversarial relationship, you need to find some way to join with the complainer. Below are some “Joining” statements you could make:


“It sounds to me like we have some serious work to do together.”


“Now that I have some understanding of the problem, I would like to work with you to get this problem solved. I am sure we will both feel better and have a better understanding of each other once this problem is behind us.”


“I have never seen a problem that can’t be solved, so why don’t we work together to get this one solved?”


“If it’s okay with you, I would like for us both to set our emotions aside and see if we can come up with a practical solution?”


“The one thing I have learned in ministry is that you can’t get everything right all of the time. Something else I learned is that no matter how right or wrong any of us thinks we are, there is always another way to see and do things that works. I would like to invite you to work with me on solving this problem.”


“If you are open to us working on getting to a place where this kind of thing won’t happen again, you can count me in, and we can start now or whenever you feel ready.”


Some basic assumptions I am making and directly or indirectly stating:


1   I am not the problem and you are not the problem; we have a problem.

2   I have no reason to not want to solve the problem.

3   We are in this together

4   You are as much a part of solving this problem as I am.

5   Without your help I can do very little.

6   There is hope.

7   There is respect for each of us.

8   What we have done and will do is very important.

9   How you think and feel matters

10  What we are engaging in is an adventure, a journey.

11  I am not going try to fix you.


How we set the stage for working together often determines whether or not any work can or will be done. For those with control issues, the degree to which you need to control what happens will be what most limits your reaching a positive outcome. You are the stage manager. Your job is not to write the script. Your primary job is to keep it safe enough for all parties to risk being vulnerable enough to change the way they think see and feel.


Tell Me What Happened Don’t Sell Me What Happened


If you tell me what happened, I understand that you are telling me about your experience from your point of view. (I don’t need to interrupt you to tell you this.) It can remain a basic assumption that, in time, becomes clear to all parties. In the process of this becoming self-evident, you will notice a natural evolution of possible solutions occurring. Attempts to correct another persons’ experience is an attempt to be right and in control. No one is ever in control of facts or truth. What we call “facts” and “truth” evolve in a unique fashion as part of a process and fully emerge in an atmosphere of mutual trust.


Approaching the problem


Tell me as clearly as you can (without the emotion) your experience of what happened. (Tell me what you are thinking, not what you are feeling.)


Can you tell what you would like to see happen?


Can you tell me what you think an ideal resolution to this conflict or problem might look like?


How would you like to see the problem solved?


Is there anything you think either of us could have done differently?


What would you like to be able to say happened here a week form now?


What do you think would have happened had I done this?


What do you think would have happened if you were to try this?


If this kind of situation has occurred in another setting, how did it get worked out and were you satisfied with the results?


If you were me what you would recommend?


Can you imagine us building a solid relationship once the situation is resolved?


Now that we have solved the problem, I would like to know what part of all this was the most difficult? What part felt the best? What new knowledge or insight, if any, are you going to leave with?






Whatever You Want, I want That For You And More


You give away nothing by being open to those asking for the sun the moon and the stars. Remember, you are not the gatekeeper of possibility. Most of us like to dream big, sometimes talk big and even show off a bit. Allow it. People will reign themselves in when it’s time.


A young woman came to the center I founded in Oroville, CA, and informed me she was planning to be my co-pastor. I was somewhat surprised, since I had never met her. My response was, “Fine, let’s get started. In order for you to join me, I will need to see your ministerial license.”


She seemed pleased that I was not saying, “No,” and confided that she was an independent minister and had none.


I said, “Ok, well for the moment, let’s skip that part and go on.” She was happy and willing to do so. My next statement was, “I need a letter of reference from the last center you served.” She confided that she had never really served another center, but that she knew she could serve this one with me. I said that was fine and suggested again that we move on. I asked, “What SOM classes have you taught?”


Her response was, “None.”


At that point I said, “I think we need to stop here. I don’t see any real problem with serving at this center as my co-pastor. There are, as I am sure you would expect, a few things you will need to do first. You will have to join an CSL center, take five years of classes, pass an exam, be approved by a panel of ordained ministers and be given a license. After that we can meet again and take the next step.” She smiled thanked me and then left the center.


I never saw her again, but her therapist came to see me and was pleased by how well I had dealt with the client she had sent me. Her therapist could not convince her that she would not be able to just walk in and become my co-pastor. That therapist became a member and brought several more of her colleagues to the center and they became members. Don’t write off anyone, ever. How you deal with people will become known to many and will be one of the reasons your center thrives or dives.




                     Your Mental and Physical Posture:



When you know you are about to meet a very angry and demanding person, ask yourself if you were that person, how would you want to be met? Would you want someone to puff herself up to show you that they are in charge and are the decision maker? Would you want that person to be cold and aloof? Would you respond well to them giving you a thumbnail critique or assessment of your past behavior as well as some instructions on how to behave? Would you want the person to be meek, passive, fearful, anxious and apologetic?


Here are some of the things you need to understand and remember:


Everyone wants to have their needs met.


Many people feel they are entitled to get their own way.


No one wants to “lose face” during the course of an interaction.


No matter how rude a person is, they want to be respected, liked, approved of and listened to.


Everyone needs to feel they have some control over the course of a conversation.


People need to feel they have hope, and that their dreams, wishes, and desires could come true, no matter how unrealistic.


Everyone likes to have another person notice and acknowledge something about himself.


(Compliments about another person’s looks are not a good idea. They can easily be seen a seductive and inappropriate.)


Your mental and physical posture is your first opportunity to join with a person.


You start a conversation with your intention and your posture mentally and physically long before words are exchanged.










Do You Know How To Meet An Angry, Scared Dog?



Think about how you would meet a dog that is both angry and scared. Any dog that presents himself in an angry and threatening manner is also a scared dog. He is scared because from his point of view things have gotten dangerous and he may lose his pride, his position, or even his life. He has no idea you may be even more scared than he is. When people are angry and scared, they act much like animals in the wild. Fear brings out the most primal part of our nature.


Helpful hints:


You meet an angry scared dog by loving him in your mind before you have any idea what you are going to do. Love starts with empathy and compassion.


Do not react to his snarling and avoid long eye-to-eye contact


Tell him with your mind and body that you will stand your ground, and will respect his ground as well.


Accept that this dog is not a bad dog, but is reacting to conditions or conditioning.


Do not act afraid or superior.


Don’t start telling him what to do; you have not established a relationship yet.


Don’t try to hide anything.


What you reveal and do, you do carefully, deliberately, and with forethought:


“I know you are a big dog. I too am a big dog”


“Big dogs don’t have to fight.”


Your mental and physical posture is a statement that,

WE ARE IN THIS SITUATION TOGETHER. Let’s see what we can do to get things to work out without anyone getting hurt.







What to do when you are angry


If you are uncomfortable with other people’s anger you are probably even more uncomfortable with your own. Many of us are so uncomfortable that we go so far as to deny being angry to ourselves. If you are angry, it’s a good idea to put making big decisions or actions on hold until you are no longer angry. Can you choose a course of action, or are you reacting? Can you count to ten, or must you respond immediately? If you can’t count to ten, odds are good that you need to count to 50 before saying or doing anything. If you have someone you can trust who doesn’t see everything the way you do, and who has the strength to stand up to you, that’s the person to call. Ask them to listen and give you feedback and perspective. I have at least two people in my life that fit that description and are not involved in the daily interactions of my life. Pick a person who has no interest in trying to shape your point of view or action to get something for themself. When you are angry, move slowly and think your actions through. Before taking any action ask yourself how you would feel if you were to read a replay of your action in the morning newspaper. Would your actions require a special explanation? Your ministry may last for 50 or more years as will the things you say and the way you say what you say. Being right does not justify a display of anger. People will quickly discard, ignore or disagree with your position, but they will remember your display. Anger can mislead us into feeling invincible while making us vulnerable. Anger helps us mobilize our energy and quickly assess the conditions around us. It is not good at measuring the possible fallout from a chosen course of action. When I played tournament Ping-Pong I discovered that I could count on an angry opponent to be impulsive, explosive, over confidant and to make many mistakes.






















Ministers need to be able to assess a crisis and gather information about another person that may save a life.




In the mental health field, we use a tool called a Mental Health Status Exam. The purpose of this exam is to help us create a snap shot of a person and how they are functioning mentally. Since most of you are not knowingly working directly in the field of mental heath, I will assume that such a tool is something you have not used. I have included the MSE used by Brown University. During our workshop I will give you an overview of this tool and its use.



































When Sex & Ministry Might Be A Problem


  • You think the church membership is your dating Rolodex.
  • If sex is casual and consensual, how could there be a problem?
  • You believe flirting is part of your job description.
  • A person’s sexual appeal is important to you.
  • You avoid people you feel are unattractive.
  • You can’t see why having sex with church members might be complicated.
  • You only hug members you find attractive.
  • You are sure that you would never have sex with a church member.
  • You are sure it will never happen again.
  • Having sex with a church member just happened; it wasn’t your idea.
  • Sex is fine when you are in love.
  • By the time you both finished your first cup of coffee you were in love.
  • It was the coffee.
  • You only feel good when you are being admired.
  • After church you feel lonely, isolated, and unhappy.
  • You give your best talks when a certain member is present on Sunday.
  • A few drinks with someone you find attractive means nothing.
  • Your husband or wife has asked you if you are having an affair.
  • You don’t have a husband or wife.
  • Your wife, husband or partner is not involved in our teaching.
  • Your wife, husband or partner is not happy with your being a minister.
  • Your partner says you are spending too much time with one person.
  • At last you have found someone who understands you.
  • You have to explain a special relationship to a number of people.
  • Everyone around you misunderstands your relationships.
  • You believe you can’t help who you are attracted to.
  • You have had to leave a job, a church or community because of sex.
  • You think you might be a sex addict.
  • Sex keeps your life in turmoil, but you’re sure you’re not addicted to it.
  • You have said many times, “This time things are going to be different.”
  • From time to time you buy sex.
  • You watch pornography for stress reduction.
  • Your sexual expression must be kept secret.
  • There is shame connected to your sexual expression.
  • You are suffering from burnout at church.
  • You have increased your use of alcohol or special herbs.
  • Your doctor has prescribed medication to help you relax and to sleep.
  • You have lost a great deal of self-esteem.
  • You have been gaining weight.
  • You feel tired most of the time.
  • You feel sad for no specific reason.


All material is copy written.