How to Deal with Difficult People: Jay Johnson (Transcript)

We should probably take a look at this a little bit more effectively. And now all of a sudden in togetherness… we’re engaging the other person, we’re bringing them together.

One of the other ways in which we can actually influence other people’s behavior is reward and recognition. Just like a child that goes potty when they’re supposed to and where they’re supposed to, we give them an M&M. We never really get beyond that behavior as adults.

But when we’re at odds or when we’re working with somebody difficult, it is very hard for us to think that giving them recognition or a reward would be a value to us. But if they do something nice, we can reach out to them and say, “Hey, I thought your report today was fantastic.” And all of a sudden, we start to move ourselves out of that enemy zone and into being a friend.

And let me tell you: it’s much more valuable in work or anywhere else to be a friend, because if people like you they will do business with you. And if they don’t like you, they will do whatever they can to usurp your ability to be successful.

So utilizing something like a recognition or reward scenario is something that can actually help build that influence and that rapport. They’re going to start looking to you as maybe not necessarily the difficult person.

I used to be a difficult person. When I talk about difficulty, I’m sure that there is plenty of people that still find me to be difficult.

But the reality is, until we recognize that each of us are a difficult person for someone else, we’re never going to be able to adjust our behavior. And that’s where we get into control. Some of the self-awareness aspects.

So some of the things that we can do to control that low-road system, that limbic system, that fear, that flight-or-fight response that we have when we’re interacting with somebody who we find to be difficult is as simple as we learned in kindergarten:

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First, take a deep breath. When we take a deep breath…(inhales) and out…(exhales) we flood our body with oxygen. Now that system that’s fight-or-flight, it doesn’t know the difference between you interacting with a difficult person and a lion chasing you.

And if a lion’s chasing you, are you going go… (deep breath)? No, absolutely not; you’re going to run. You’re going to scream.

So when we take that deep breath, we’re literally telling our system, that low-road system, everything’s OK. Look at how we’re breathing. Look at how we’re managing ourselves.

Another way is to count to 10. And that doesn’t mean standing there going… one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I’m still angry. That’s probably not going to be effective in working with that difficult person.

But counting to 10 is as simple to say: you know what, I notice that both of us are getting a little passionate about this. Why don’t we take a small recess? Why don’t we take a step back and reset and in come at this with clear heads?

And notice again I’m using that inclusive language… the “we”, “us”, “together”, because together we can solve the problem.

So when we look at that, another way that I love to look at difficult people is to separate out the person from the behavior. In so many cases, we label them “tough to deal with”, “difficult”, “bad”.

But if we look at it and say I dislike this behavior that this person, this human exhibits, it separates those two things for us. The label is no longer on them. It’s on the behavior.

And then we can carve that out and say: Is this the hill we want to die on? Is that behavior worth my heart attack? And I would like to think that the answer to that is no.

So with all of the impacts that we see, this model of behavioral intelligence gives us the opportunity to explain the existing behaviors, to ask those questions of why, to predict future behaviors, to reduce the uncertainty surrounding those, to influence other people’s behavior.

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Why? Because our relationships matter. And if we’re not engaging in those relationships, well guess what, they’re going to continuously go down. And we see the impact of conflict in the workplace and on ourselves.

And then we can control our own behavior by being a little bit more thoughtful and aware of how we are.

And again why should we have to do this? Why should we be the people that has to change our behavior to deal with difficult people?

Ultimately because it’s your heart attack and someone else’s bad behavior should not be the cause of your heart attack.

Thank you very much.

 

Resources for Further Reading: 

How to Motivate Yourself to Change Your Behavior: Tali Sharot (Transcript)

How to Control Emotion and Influence Behavior: Dawn Goldworm at TEDxEast (Transcript)

Transcript: Three Myths of Behavior Change – What You Think You Know That You Don’t by Jeni Cross at TEDxCSU

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