How to Deal with Difficult People | Jay Johnson | TEDxLivoniaCCLibrary

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From co-workers and colleagues to friends and family, we are faced with challenging relationships daily. Unfortunately, we often go about managing them the wrong way. Only by elevating our understanding of behavior and acting through an internalized approach will we be able to master the conflicts created by dealing with difficult people. Jay Johnson is a trainer specializing in communication and leadership development. Using a unique perspective of behavioral intelligence, Jay empowers people and organizations across the globe stretching from Main Street to Wall Street. Jay is a designated Master Trainer through the Association for Talent Development (ATD). He is a two-time Excellence in Training Award recipient from the National Association of Professional Communication Consultants and in 2017 he was named “Top Trainer” by the ATD Detroit Chapter. Jay has a devotion to teaching and learning, and is passionate about inspiring people to reach peak performance in work and in life. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

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Video Transcript:

I want you to think of a time when maybe you were interacting with somebody who you felt was difficult as you're sitting there and you're talking to them maybe getting into an argument maybe the tensions are starting to rise if you can feel your palms starting to sweat you can feel your breath starting to get shorter you can feel yourself getting angry and at some point in time in that conversation you decide I've had Enough of this it's time for me to walk away you walk out you get about five steps this way and it hits you and you're like oh I should have said this I would have totally got them that is a product of our brains when we meet somebody maybe for the first time and we shake their hands we say hello how are you my name is Jay nice to meet you and something in the back of your mind is already hitting you and going I'm not gonna like this person well if you've Experienced that trust me you're not alone our brain is designed for survival what Daniel Goleman calls the low road is something where we look at others call it the limbic system our fear regulation our fight-or-flight response when we deal with difficult people ultimately what we're doing is trying to get past that response it's a natural response that we have in fact it's an important response it is the response that stress comes into the body so we See things like adrenaline norepinephrine cortisol flood the system when we're engaged with those difficult people we're in a heightened state of anxiety during that and our other systems start to shut down we don't think rationally our metabolism slows we can even get acne from having too much stress hormones put into the body is that a way that we want to live our lives conflict in the workplace between difficult people are not difficult People has serious impacts and ultimately what it does is it causes turnover absenteeism it can even cause projects to fail so what can we do about that we can't change other people's behavior I can't make somebody behave in a way that I want them to so I guess maybe we need to look at a different framework of operating from internal when we look at people one of the ways that we can start changing this conversation with Ourselves is to look at how we label them so we label somebody difficult or a pain in the you-know-what we also have these archetypes that we tend to create so for example one of the people you might encounter them in the office place you walk in to have a conversation with them and they won't lift their head up they're just sitting there they're texting they're playing under computer and they're not paying any attention to you that's the archetype of the not Listener we have other art types such as the one-upper if you've ever been I had a party and you tell a story and then what happens somebody has to tell a better story or you go and get a new dress and somebody has to get a better dress or something of that nature anything that's always the one-up archetype how about the gossip er the person that walks around and it gossip all about different people in the office place it almost just to stir up trouble What about the curmudgeon the person that's been there and done that and remembers the glory days of everything that's right or wrong with your organization now part of my framework is behavior and I can guarantee you that at some point in time when I was talking about those archetypes you put a name and a face with each one of those individuals yeah I see the knots when we look at that and we understand that those are the different behaviors that Really impact us individually we know that we need to change the simple message is this why should we have to change ourselves because of somebody else's behavior because it's your heart attack those stress homework hormones are killers it's your heart attack so if we can't change other people's behaviors the only thing that we can change is our own behaviors let's look at a unique approach through behavioral intelligence behavioral Intelligence really has four quadrants to be able to explain existing behaviors predict future behaviors influence other people's behaviors and control our own behaviors and we'll talk about that in the context of difficult people so one of the things that we want to look at is how do we explain behaviors when we see somebody do something that we really just don't like and we label them maybe they're stubborn well at the same time couldn't we see our friend doing that And say well they're just headstrong we see somebody do something that we feel like it's aggressive but on the other side of things we look at our friend that does the exact same behavior and we say wow they're dedicated motivated passionate even so some of these labels start to infiltrate the way that we understand the world it's a bias that we have so we want to look a little bit deeper and ask the question of why why did somebody behave That way is it something inherent is it an intrinsic desire that is pushing them to behave that way now this is a tough question because we're in a heat at the moment one of the things that we get really frustrated with is ourselves in that moment we don't take the time to actually ask we just label and continue but again it's your heart attack it's your organization that's suffering so we have to look at this in a Different way asking questions is one of the best ways to explain behavior and I'm gonna give you an example of a case study one of my favorite case studies of when I was working with two different divisions in a management organization one division had manager and I'm gonna rename them Bill and Ted to protect the guilty we had bill on one side and we had Ted on the other and these two could not get along in any way shape or form they were Constantly at odds with each other causing projects to fail and ultimately I was brought in to take a look at this and say what behaviors are existing that's creating this situation so I had Bill and Ted both write out everything that they felt about the other person I asked them to put ever onto paper and then I had them submit that to me so I take a look at this I review it and as I'm reading through it and the value of being an objective Outside observer is something incredibly valuable to take yourself out of a situation is something that you can do also as I start reading I read bills all about Ted and Bill says Ted is constantly coming to my office asking questions he's bothering me he will never leave me alone he's such a constant contact okay so then I read Ted's and Ted says bill just can't be bothered with me my manager keeps telling me to go to Bill And ask him these questions to find out more because all of his experience his knowledge his value to the organization but he just won't listen he's such a not listener so I bring these two people in and I put them at the table and I share with them each other's perspective and I swear it was just like lady in a [ __ ] when all of a sudden they looked at each other like oh my goodness I had no idea that you valued my opinion so much and on the other side it was oh my goodness I can't believe that that's the way that I'm coming off in this environment and all of a sudden we start to look and they were able to answer each other's narrative that narrative that was hidden to them because they didn't ask questions they didn't go to why they just labeled they labeled them difficult once we can explain behaviors then we can predict behaviors we can predict what's going to happen that'll help to reduce uncertainty uncertainty is one of The things if you've ever gotten a phone call from a superior saying hey can you come down to my office immediately what happens you don't think oh I'm going to get a raise this is gonna be great you start thinking yourself what did I do oh my gosh this could be the worst that uncertainty creates some of that anxiety and when we bring that anxiety into a conversation or into the relationship that's gonna be felt by the other person So by being able to predict those types of behaviors it'll actually reduce the anxiety if you've ever been in a situation where you've said hey listen my friend is probably going to say X Y or Z don't be offended by it that's just how they are that's a fundamental effect of prediction we can forgive or we can be prepared so that we were not hit with an onslaught of anxiety influencing behaviors we look at this and say how do We necessarily influence that person that is a difficult person one is by using inclusive language when we talk about somebody if I say your behavior is doing X Y & Z immediately the walls going to go up they're going to get defensive they're gonna look for the ways in which your behavior contributes to it and fire back and all of a sudden we're now in an argument and we're in a place where we can't necessarily get out of that difficulty versus when we start To talk and use inclusive language like I noticed that we're having some trouble communicating here that key word we're we are having trouble communicating because communication is a two-way street we should probably take a look at this a little bit more effectively and now all of a sudden is 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 to be successful so utilizing something like a recognition or reward scenario is something that can actually help build that influence and that report they're Gonna 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 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 first take a deep breath when we take a deep breath and out 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 in a lion chasing you and if a Lions Chasing you are you gonna go no absolutely not you're gonna run you're gonna scream so when we take that deep breath we're literally telling our system that low-road system everything's okay look at how we're breathing look at how we're managing ourselves another way is to count to ten 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 ten is as simple to say you know what I noticed 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 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 [Applause]

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