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Archive for dealing with difficult people

Difficult People: Are Emotional Vampires Driving You Batty?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

     In my book “Secrets Your Boss Isn’t Telling You,” I reveal seven magic “wands” if you will, for dealing with difficult people. During this holiday season, many participants in my keynotes and seminars on leadership have asked me for tips on dealing with difficult people in the workplace, and in general. Here’s one suggestion for that…

Do what you can to refill the well so Emotional Vampires don’t drive you batty!

     In a tough economy, everyone experiences adversity from time to time–whether it’s caring for a loved one, job insecurities, reduced incomes, managing a difficult employee and more. Maybe it’s that you’re “hanging in there” and dealing with a difficult boss. People seem to be working harder than ever…and complaining more. You’ve undoubtedly known people who come to work and complain about their home life, then go home and complain about their professional life! What a never-ending day!

     But what if you’re working as hard as you can both at work and at home and feeling underappreciated? As someone who has previously been in the role of caregiver as well as running a speaking, coaching, and consulting business, I understand. And I empathize with the hard work single parents do, even though I’m only “mom” to two wonderful dogs. As Mother Teresa said, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread alone.”

     So, what do you do when you feel underappreciated–especially when dealing with difficult people? Mark Twain said it best. “When you cannot get a compliment any other way, pay yourself one.”

     Look in the mirror. And what I’m about to say, I say respectfully. You are the only person responsible for how you feel. Ultimately, you can’t control what someone else will–or won’t–say to you. Indeed, some people get so focused on their needs, they’ll never be able to appreciate you. Heed this saying: “You can’t ask a naked man to give you the shirt off his back.” Some people simply don’t have love to give back because they don’t love themselves first.

     So treat yourself with small rewards for a job well done. Refill the well and don’t let Emotional Vampires drive you batty. Difficult people are Emotional Vampires who suck the life out of you. And it can take days, weeks, or months to recover if you don’t do something positive to blunt their impact and counteract their bitter aftertaste. (Do you recall my earlier blog on this topic? Start there.)

     What can you plan this weekend that would boost your happiness quotient? Drive to the beach or mountains, splurge on a pedicure or manicure, spend time with your significant other, see a movie with supportive friends. Simply don’t let difficult people get you down. One of the secrets to successfully dealing with difficult people is to remember that you choose your response–both inwardly and outwardly. If you keep dissecting what Emotional Vampires said or did to you, you’re giving them power over you.  Remember, the person who constantly angers, frustrates, or intimidates you actually controls you.

     A highly sought-after speaker, author, and executive facilitator, Colleen Kettenhofen has delivered more than 1,100 entertaining programs before thousands in 48 states and five countries. Why is Colleen such a popular speaker at conventions, sales and leadership meetings? She blends humorous slice-of-life stories with practical insights that are easy to put in place immediately. For speaking availability and fees, please contact Colleen at (623)340-7690.



 “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echos are truly endless.” ~ Mother Teresa

     When dealing with difficult people, the word “kind” may not be the first thing that comes to your mind.Still, the above quote by Mother Teresa is a terrific one to remember so that we don’t become the difficult people. We know to treat others with respect – even those who are hurtful toward us, but we don’t always do with what we know. It’s starts with remembering – and practicing – the basics. What are the basics? Treat the difficult person with at least  some reverence, and don’t take what they say personally. How do you do that? Please read on…

     Let me first say that in presenting keynotes and seminars on dealing with difficult people, the question I’m most often asked is, “How do you not take it personally?”

     Accept that what others do to you is not always personal. Seek first to understand them and what they might be going through. For example, you’d heard people say, “Walk in someone else’s shoes.” Here’s why that advice works: It get you out of your own agenda of believing a hurtful interaction was directed at you.

     Know that most difficult interactions don’t happen because someone woke up one day and decided, “I know what I’ll do! I’ll purposely be mean to Jane Doe today.” Most people just don’t think that way – even difficult people.

Dealing with Difficult People, and Collateral Damage

     Instead, realize that the number one source of difficult interactions is what I call “collateral damage.” People do what they do for their own reasons, and it’s easy to get caught in the crosshairs of their actions. In my role as a corporate speaker with companies and associations all over the world, I frequently witness this happening in the workplace. And especially if you’re a salesperson, your first rule is to not take rejection of your product, service, or message as a rejection of you.

     So take a snapshot of other people’s lives at the time, think about the pressures they’re under, and then accept that what they did to you wasn’t about you. Don’t take it personally. It’s advice that’s trite but true.

     As bestselling author Stephen R. Covey wrote, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” Adopting that attitude lets you realize that whatever others did to make something difficult for you, they didn’t do it to you. They just did it.


A frequent media guest, Colleen Kettenhofen is the author of two books, Secrets Your Boss Isn’t Telling You, and the upcoming Adopting Joy. Colleen is author of the 10-CD audio learning system, How to Turn Around Any Situation or Person. Her areas of expertise are leadership, dealing with difficult people, managing change, and improving presentation skills. For free articles, or to sign up for Colleen’s newsletter, visit Colleen is available for keynotes, breakout sessions and seminars by calling toll free (800)323-0683. Or, locally in Phoenix (623)340-7690.



Interview with Bo Hudson from CBS Radio

Monday, August 29th, 2011
Host: Bo Hudson
Interview Date: July 27, 2011
Topics: How to Get a Great Job, What Employers Look for on Interviews, Bosses’ Biggest Frustrations, How to Keep Your Job, Effective Leadership

Listen to Interview ->

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and immediately dismissed that person as a jerk? Have you ever gotten annoyed at someone who didn’t call you back and, under your breath, concluded, “This person is a butthead!”

     You’re likely to call people jerks or buttheads (if only in your mind) for one of two reasons: 1) because of a personality trait that person possesses that clashes with your own, or 2) because that person simply didn’t do what you wanted in that moment. Dealing with difficult people is often the result of a personality clash.

     Let’s look at an example of the first. A friend of mine has difficulty with a co-worker whom she describes as “anal retentive” and calls a perfectionist. Not surprising, my friend is the complete opposite. She also has a hard time understanding this colleague because she says she’s too blunt with others. Their ways of handling situations differ completely. And sometimes their personalities clash.

     Adding to that, they were raised differently when it came to resolving conflict. While the “blunt” person learned to be direct, my friend was raised with the belief that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” In this case as in many, different people equal difficult people.

     If you possess personality traits that clash with someone else’s, try to resolve issues in person, or, next best thing, over the phone. Nowadays, people in the workplace are challenged by important messages getting misconstrued via email. You know how it goes. You send someone a neutral email and its meaning is taken the wrong way. Why? One reason is because you can’t “read” a person’s body language in email. And there’s no “tone of voice” unless you carefully craft one.

     Carol Burnett said it best. “Words, once they’re printed, tend to take on a life of their own.”

     Yes, it’s more confrontational to talk with someone in person, but in the long run, you’ll find it more constructive.

     Here’s an example of the second. My friend got asked out by a guy she really liked. He was regarded as an easy-going gentleman to those of us who knew him well, but he never asked her out a second time. She instantly dismissed him as a jerk. However, once she realized he was “difficult” because he didn’t do what she wanted him to do, she got over it!

     Sometimes difficult people aren’t really difficult. They’re simply different.

In conducting thousands of seminars on dealing with difficult people, managing difficult people, and leadership for corporations all over the world, the one type of worker I hear about most is the negativist. Now, we can all be difficult from time to time. But the people I’m talking about are the chronically negative difficult people that really get under everybody’s skin.

This is the problem-child whiner who complains, has no solutions, and says, “I don’t get paid enough to worry about that!” Or says sarcastically, “It’s not my job.”

While these people can be challenging to work with, they can be harder to manage. That’s because many managers and supervisors get promoted to management positions based on their hard skills or technical skills. Yet, the very skills that got them promoted aren’t the ones they’ll often use in managing people. Often, bosses say to me, “I’m tired of being everybody’s babysitter or referee.” Or they’ll say, “I feel like I’m running an adult day care!” That’s where I come in – to coach them and train them in what to say – and what not to say –  in dealing with difficult people.  Bosses have to be very careful nowadays because we live in such a litigious society.

And as someone said on a radio show the other day, “It goes both ways. Bosses have to be outstanding role models if they want outstanding employees.” Well said!

So, what if you’re dealing with difficult people – and their negativity at work – but you’re not the manager?  You may not have direct authority over these people, but there are things you can do. One thing you can do is offer the difficult person a solution. Chronic complainers don’t want solutions. Eventually they’ll move on to someone else.

Another method in dealing with difficult people is to continue doing your work. Look up occasionally. Nod occasionally. Most likely, they’ll move on to someone else because they’re looking for an audience. They want someone who will buy in to their negativity. Or, you can be more direct. Tactfully say, “I know this is something you want to discuss, but I have a lot of work and I want to make sure I get it done.”

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to start complaining. Otherwise, the two of you will be feeding off of each other. The next time they want to complain they’ll come to you first!

Document your interactions with these difficult people at work. Eventually, if you can’t resolve it on your own, your manager will have to step in and take action.

The good news? It demonstrates to your boss that you’re proactive. It shows you’re a problem solver in dealing with difficult people. You attempted to tackle this difficult person on your own first, without being a tattletale.  Your boss will appreciate you for making the effort. Unfortunately, now it’s up to them to become the babysitter.

     Are you a difficult person? If you’re honest with yourself, you can be difficult from time to time, right? The question is how do you deal with the chronically difficult people — you know, those who manage to get under your skin every time? Whether you’re managing a difficult person at work with a sense of entitlement, or conversing with a know-it-all customer,  you can counteract their bitter aftertaste. It just takes practice – and patience. I know because I hear about these people all the time when I speak on “7 Magic Wands for Making Difficult People Disappear.”

     The secret to bouncing back higher from what life throws at you – like dealing with difficult people – is discovering how to live, work, and (in some cases) love difficult people. Because in reality there will always be difficult people.

      Have you ever noticed that an early-morning negative interaction with somebody you’d call a “difficult person” can set the tone for the entire day? Have you struggled to shake off a negative aftertaste and told yourself, “It’s not that big of a deal, just move on” but the feeling lingers? What can you do?

     Difficult conversations mar your day because you become so hot and bothered you keep processing the emotions evoked by the interaction. To blunt the impact, save this processing for later.

     How do you do that? By immediately stepping into a happy, funny, or positive environment. The next time you have lunch, or a short break, spend a few minutes reading the comics, having coffee with a co-worker, or calling your close friend to make plans for the weekend. I do realize you’re probably doing the work of five people and probably don’t even know what a “break” is anymore! Believe me, I do understand. Yet, in the midst of a more fun and positive setting, you’ll gain a new perspective for processing your negative emotions! Additionally, you can engage in an activity that distracts you so much (one that uses many brain cells) that pretty soon you won’t even be thinking about that difficult person! You’ll be so caught up in what you’re doing, you won’t have time to think about that individual as much.

   When dealing with difficult people in the future, you’ll now have “practice” for learning to process your emotions later – if at all. Next thing you know, you’ll have counteracted the difficult person’s aftertaste, and you’ll be giving advice to others on dealing with difficult people! Nothing helps you feel better than knowing you’ve helped someone else. Good luck to you!

Kern Radio

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

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Jim Hinckley Interviews Colleen

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Click the gray play arrow at the bottom right of the audio player below. You can adjust volume with the littler slider on the top right of the player. Discover what employers and interviewers are looking for and what will have them saying, “Next!” Leave a comment below. Visit blog for more posts

Listen to Interview >>

Dealing with Difficult People…

Friday, February 26th, 2010
What We Can Learn from Dogs!
By Colleen Kettenhofen

“It’s not about being better than others. It’s about becoming better with ourselves.”
Colleen Kettenhofen

     As you know, your rockiest relationships can serve as your greatest teachers. Mine certainly have. Sometimes we learn how we never want to be from observing other people.

     Many of the proven principles in my dealing with difficult people programs have come from personal experience. I’ve learned to make lemons from some pretty sour people. Fortunately, you discover through trial and error how to deal with these difficult people. And if you’re like me, you’ve been lucky. You haven’t had to deal with too many difficult people. And my background is in sales. There’s a profession where sometimes you’re dealing with difficult people!

     What gave me a new leash on life was first looking at what might be my part. Then recognizing what aspect is about them. Chronically difficult people are often unhappy people. Misery loves company. Don’t accept the invitation. Because if we’re still analyzing and dissecting everything they’ve said a week later, they control us. Here’s a great mantra for you to silently say to yourself the next time you’re dealing with difficult people: “THIS is a test. This is ONLY a test. This will NOT be important in 10 yrs!” Chances are it won’t be important even 10 weeks from now.

     Understand where this difficult person in your life is coming from. In dealing with difficult people, know it’s often a dark place of deep insecurity. They make themselves feel better by belittling you. Don’t fall prey to their disparaging remarks. Pretend you’re a duck. Let their comments fall off your back like water and roll into the gutter where they belong. Say to yourself, “I’m am a duck. I am a duck. Your stuff rolls off my back like water and into the gutter where it belongs.”

     Don’t communicate too much to “stand your ground.” You’ll only fan the flames of contentiousness. Don’t add fuel to an already explosive fire. Detach and move away from the fire. Otherwise, it’s YOU who gets burned.

     You’ve heard people say that you can discover a lot from dogs. My dog, Joy, is a bright shining light in a sometimes dark world. For example, it’s amazing to see the joy (pardon the pun) on people’s faces when they see her wet nose and wagging tail. She lives up to her name.

     My mom, Janet, used to say “We can learn how to treat people from dogs.” She would exclaim, “They’re happy to see you. They show appreciation, kindness and love to almost everyone they meet.” My mother was this way. (Kind of get a lump in my throat hearing her voice and feeling her presence!) I want to emulate Janet. And I want to be like Joy. Observing Joy causes me to reflect and ask the question, “How much light do I want to have bring into this world?” Ask yourself the same question. How can you bring hope, healing, and happiness to others? Just like dogs.

     The challenge in dealing with difficult people is this: Not only do they lack bringing light, difficult people are experts at snuffing out your candle flame. They know all the right buttons to press if you’re not wearing your bulletproof vest. They steal your joy and hijack your spirit. Difficult people suck the life out of you…which is why they’re called Emotional Vampires. Don’t let them drive you batty!

Good luck to you!

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Colleen has two NEW books being published in June 2010.