Dealing with Difficult People - Part 2

When my wife and I first started dating, I'd ask: "Would you like to go to dinner and a movie?" And she would reply: "I wouldn't want to eat too much and I wouldn't want to see anything too violent." I don't know if you can hear the potential for conflict in that statement, but I was moving toward dinner and a movie; she was moving away from eating too much or seeing anything too violent. The toward style is an Achiever strategy: go for it. The away fromstyle is a Problem Solving strategy.

Achievers vs Problem Solvers

Achievers and Problem Solvers see the world differently:

  • Achievers want to accomplish things
  • Problem Solvers see what's wrong and want to fix it

They can drive each other crazy because they have opposing mental strategies for dealing with the world and they speak completely different languages.

The Language of Connection, not Conflict

Once you've determined someone's values (see Part 1), all you have to do is ask: "Why is that value important?" They will invariably answer in one of two ways: because of what they can achieve or what they can avoid. Problem solvers use not language: wouldn't, don't, etc. 

My wife said: "I wouldn't want to eat too much." It's about avoiding overeating. Heck, I just wanted to have dinner with her. Achievers might say: "I'd like to eat a light meal." 

Over time, I've learned to use not language. When our daughter went to college, I said: "We wouldn't want her to go too far and we wouldn't want it to cost too much. She went to an in-state school about 90 minutes away. Of course, my wife learned to speak my language: "I bet Hawaii is great this time of year." (We went to Hawaii on vacation.) 

Can you begin to understand why this motivation style can create the perception that someone is a "difficult" person? Achievers think Problem Solvers are difficult and Problem Solvers think Achievers are difficult and naive. In business teams, this plays out as the conflict between dreamers, realists and critics.

Dreamers, Realists and Critics

Dreamers imagine the future, but may not have the strategies to implement it. Realists implement the project to achieve the goal. And Critics point out all of the tarpits along the way. Critics are one form of Problem Solver. It's not unusual for a Dreamer to lay out the dream; the Realist to lay out the plan; and the Critic to drive them both crazy pointing out every flaw in the plan. 

Unfortunately, Critics speak not language: "We wouldn't want to have the same problem we had with the last product launch." The Dreamer and Realist are both thinking: "Of course we wouldn't want that problem...what's your question?" Critics are actually asking: "How can we avoid the kind of problems we had the last time?" This kind of question is easily fielded by the Dreamer and the Realist to modify the dream and the plan. Unfortunately, Critics rarely ask questions; they make not statements. I find that when I'm facilitating a team that all I have to do is translate between the Dreamer, Realist and Critic using these simple shifts in communication.

Speaking Their Language

Once you learn to recognize the "difficult" person's language pattern and modify your own to match theirs, they become a lot less difficult. And, it can be a lot of fun. 

In the next chapter in this saga, we'll explore another conflicting style that makes people seem difficult. Until then, listen for not language and towardlanguage. Then have some fun trying your own version with them.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008-2024 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, 888-468-1537, ."