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  • Writer's pictureacoachsdiary

Dealing With Difficult People

Updated: May 9

For a team to be successful, teammates have to learn how to deal with different types of people.

Conflict that comes from trying to bring together people from different backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs can either make a team stronger or tear the team apart depending on how you manage the different personalities and approach (or ignore) difficult conversations.

I have seen some of the most talented teams brought to their knees because of the unwillingness or inability to have difficult conversations with each other.

In his TEDX Talk, How to Deal with Difficult People, Jay Johnson talks about the importance of dealing with difficult people and how to do so.


First, Jay says this topic is important because it can be a matter of life and death. On one extreme, difficult conversations affect our decision-making, and on the other extreme, the stress that comes from facing difficult conversations can cause heart attacks, so having the skill and will to have these types of conversations can affect our performance, relationships, and health.

Jay says you know when you are in a difficult situation when your heartbeat starts to rise, your palms start to sweat, your breath gets short, and the air in your head starts to feel thin.

Our brains are wired for survival, and when we find ourselves in a difficult conversation, we stop thinking rationally, our metabolism slows, and we can even get acne from having too many stress hormones enter our body.


Behavior Intelligence is our ability to understand, predict, and influence behavior. Jay breaks it down into four parts:

1 - Being Able to Understand Existing Behaviors

2 - Predict Future Behaviors

3 - Influence Other People’s Behaviors

4 - Control Our Own Behaviors.


1 - ASK QUESTIONS - Understand why they are doing the things they do by asking questions. Too often we assume why people are behaving certain ways and we put labels on them based on our assumptions, when all we have to do is ask them. Having a better understanding of how someone is going to act or react and why can help us better predict future behaviors and help us plan to have more effective conversations.

2 - PREDICT FUTURE BEHAVIORS - When we can predict behaviors, we can reduce stress and anxiety because we know what is coming and why. Uncertainty creates anxiety, and when we bring anxiety into a conversation or relationship, it will be felt by the other person. Being able to prime people who are going into a difficult conversation because you can predict what they might be walking into helps you prepare them so they aren’t walking in under a cloud of anxiety or walking into a trap.

3 - USE INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE - Using inclusive language - we versus you or me - and recognizing and rewarding people you are struggling with can help you move them from the enemy zone to the friend zone.

4 - CONTROL YOUR OWN EMOTIONS AND BEHAVIOR - If none of this works and you find yourself in a heated conversation, pause and take a break so you can respond instead of react. When your brain feels a threat or danger, it goes into flight/flight/freeze mode. You can counteract that by doing one of these 4 things:

1 - Take a deep breath to flood your body with oxygen. It tells your mind and body everything is okay.

2 - Count to 10. It’s a small recess that allows you to reset so you can step back into the conversation in a better headspace.

3 - Separate the person from the behavior. Address the behaviors; don’t attack the person.

4 - Ask yourself, “Is this the hill I want to die on? Is this behavior worth the heart attack?”

We can’t perform at our best if we don’t have an effective way to face stressful situations, and often we wish the people we are in conflict would change, but Jay says change starts with us. 

Jay asks, “Why should we change ourselves because of someone else’s behavior?” and then says because it’s OUR heart attack. On one end, our inability or unwillingness to address certain behaviors or have certain conversations can tear apart our team, and at the other end, the stress hormones we get from stress, conflict, and dealing with difficult people are killers that can lead to health issues and heart attacks.


When you are going into a difficult conversation, use the following check-list:

1 - Do I know why they are doing the things they are doing? If not, what can I ask them so I can learn more?

2 - Now that I know why they are doing what they do, is there anyone else who needs to know why, and can I reduce uncertainty and anxiety by predicting future behavior?

3 - How can I make sure I am using inclusive language like we instead of me?

4 - How will I identify if I am losing control of my emotions, and how will I reset myself if that happens?

Access a printable PDF of this post here: How to Deal With Difficult People

To learn more, watch Jay’s TEDx Talk here: How to Deal With Difficult People

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