Difficult happens. We all have people in our lives that we just can’t seem to get along with, which can be a real problem in both our personal and professional lives. In fact, a study published by the American Sociological Review surveyed respondents about their relationships with difficult people and found that, outside of family members, colleagues presented the most frequent problems. This confirms we aren’t alone in having difficult people on our team.
Recognizing this challenge led me to connect recently with Lara Currie of the Difficult Happens Podcast. She specializes in dealing with difficult people without feeling drained, exhausted, and unhappy. The conversation that followed was eye-opening and full of insights from her career that, put very simply, has been understanding why people act and react the way that they do. It turns out, you may not be dealing with difficult people. You are more likely dealing with difficult situations that come out of people interacting and communicating differently.
Throughout her career as a journalist, private investigator and in the nonprofit world, Lara sought out the what, where, when, why and how miscommunication happened. Two themes started to come out: people who are in a heightened, emotional state and the way that they communicate with one another. They’re not hearing anything when they’re facing fight or flight, freeze or appease. Their brain goes on hiatus. They’re flooding.
Lara explains that, at its core, “difficult” is whatever is difficult for you. Some people love confrontation and have no problem breaking things down. Other people can't think if there's a raised voice. People don't understand where other people are coming from and are often just fighting to be heard. Lara shared that there are four main archetypes of people in conflict, and this is how we act and react in conflict. For each archetype, there's the passive and active version of that person.
- The pleaser. When they're activated, they're a fixer.
- The perfectionist. When they're activated, they're a controller.
- The innocent When they're activated, they're an avoider.
- The victim. When they're activated, they're a blamer.
As Lara puts it, “this is just us doing our best. Difficult people come about when they are your kryptonite.” So when it comes to the pleaser-fixer, their kryptonite is the victim-blamer because the victim-blamer just want to be heard. Same thing with the perfectionist-controller. Their kryptonite is the innocent-avoider. Try and pin down an avoider and you're going to see sparks.
So who is a difficult person? It's whoever is difficult for you and the character traits that are difficult for you to navigate. The next person may not be bothered by this person's behavior at all, while it's causing fireworks at the highest level for you.
My conversation with Lara was full of aha moments and laughs. I highly recommend checking out her Difficult Happens Podcast for more on effective communication, navigating conflict and so much more. She is honest, insightful and never boring!
There are resources and coaches, myself included, available to help you access and nurture the people skills critical to the success and profitability of your organization. If it feels like a struggle for you, don’t go at it alone. On Mondays at 12:15pm, I connect with Jeff Heyer-Jones, president of SparkEvolve, via LinkedIn Live to cover topics like this one for business owners exploring their own leadership and working through challenges. Join us live or view past recordings from my LinkedIn profile page. Just remember – Jeff and Rhonda are on your screen Mondays at 12:15!
Rhonda Peterson has been working with business executives and owners since 2010 to help them uncover and lean into their strengths and own their leadership roles. Through her executive coaching, leaders gain clarity and are equipped with the skills to build strong teams and grow profitability. Rhonda also uses her signature interactive approach to empower groups as a speaker and workshop facilitator. Participants leave with the knowledge and motivation to focus their energy, do their best work and have a greater impact in their organization and life. To ensure you don’t miss future articles and tips, sign up to have Rhonda’s monthly newsletter delivered directly to your inbox!