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The Secret to Dealing with Difficult People

career & business leadership & impact love & relationships May 31, 2021

Ever find yourself flustered or frustrated with difficult people that just don’t get it? 

Many of us excuse this as simply having a low tolerance for incompetent people. Yet, there may be something that we are unaware of which is inhibiting us from truly understanding the other person and therefore we may miss out on an opportunity to empower ourselves and others. 

When we take a few moments to step outside of ourselves to experience the situation from a different perspective, we can gain a new understanding that will help us to behave differently, experience more ease, and get even better results. 

I recently had a conversation with a client who is the CEO of a large construction company. He was frustrated because his COO resisted some of the changes that he proposed. When he took the time to perceive the problem from a different vantage point, he understood how the COO might be feeling and why she responded the way that she did. These new insights led him to communicate even more clearly and compassionately, which led to a deeper level of trust, lower resistance, and more harmony between members of the executive leadership team. 

In many situations, particularly during times of conflict or in other emotionally charged events, gaining a new perspective allows you to think more clearly, be more objective and empathetic, access new choices, and make even better decisions.   

If you’ve attended one of my trainings or you’re a member of my MINDset Game community, you are aware that what you perceive to be “real” is simply your own interpretation or perception of reality. It is a reflection of what you expect to experience based on your past experiences, values and beliefs. 

This concept, which Carl Jung called “Perception is Projection”, means that other people in our life may have a completely different version of reality than we do. And when we think that we have a problem with certain “difficult” people, what we’re actually having a problem with is not the person, but rather our own perception of them. 

This understanding is empowering because you can always change your perception about something or someone to come up with better solutions and results. 

A powerful NLP technique to help you do this is called Perceptual Positions. It allows you to look at any interaction with another person from three different viewpoints or “perceptual positions”. After experiencing all three of the positions, your perception of the situation will change. You will be able to access important learnings regarding how to adjust your behavior in the future in order to get even better results. 

You essentially imagine stepping into someone else’s shoes to see the world through their point of view- what they see, hear and feel. This works because when you imagine that you are “being” another person (e.g., sitting, standing, breathing, talking, or gesturing like them), you can pick up valuable information about what they might be thinking and feeling.

Here are the three “perceptual positions”:

  1. Your own viewpoint (known in NLP as the ‘first position’) 
  2. The other person’s viewpoint (known as the ‘second position’)
  3. A detached observer’s viewpoint (known as the ‘third position’)

Being flexible to move through the different positions allows you to view a situation from all angles before coming back to yourself to decide the ‘highest and best’ course of action. 

Here’s a quick exercise to help you practice this powerful tool: 

  1. Think of a person who you have a difficult working relationship with or that you struggle to understand. Then, take a few moments to notice on your own perspective in this situation. Consider what you think about the situation or about the other person, and notice what emotions are coming up. 
  2. Now imagine stepping out of your body, completely detaching from your own identify and leaving any feelings behind. Imagine floating up in the air and then floating down into the body of the other person. It helps to physically move away from that first position and stand where the other person would be standing. 
  3. As you imagine "being" the other person, make sure to stand the way they stand (e.g. embody their typical posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, etc.). Then, look back at the first position. Imagine seeing yourself, and observe what you see and hear, and notice how it makes you feel. Take your time.  You may notice intuitive hunches coming up from this position. 
  4. Now imagine stepping out of the other person’s body and going to the third position of a detached observer. You are now standing on a spot that would be the third tip of a triangle, an equal distance from the first and second positions so that you can see them both in relation to each other. Be emotionally detached from either side… kind of like a fly on the wall curiously looking at both sides of the interaction. Observe what you notice from this perspective. What guidance would you offer to the person in the first position? 
  5. Now step out of the observer position, bringing the insights you’ve gained with you. Come back to the first position and take the time to integrate what you’ve learned through the exercise. You can write down your learnings. Consider what’s different now. Ask yourself, "How do I feel about the situation or about the other person now?" and "What actions, if any, can I take to get even better results the next time a situation like this comes up?" 

When you practice this simple technique, you give yourself the advantage of seeing the bigger picture so that you may notice things that you could not notice when you associated into the drama of the situation.  

After experiencing all of the positions, your perception of the situation will likely change. You will be able to access important learnings regarding how to adjust your behavior in the future in order to get even better results. 

I challenge you to use the Perceptual Positions technique to prepare for upcoming difficult situations or interactions, or to learn from past experiences, so that you can feel even more empowered and empower others. 


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