Dealing with Difficult People

We’ve probably all got people in our lives that we’d rather not see, a difficult colleague or family member – the kind of person that makes your heart sink, you hackles rise or your stomach churn. Here’s one way of dealing with difficult people and the reactions you have to them that I’ve been experimenting with in the last couple of months. One of it’s big advantages is that the person is question doesn’t have to be present.

Choose a person who causes a negative reaction in you. Remember in this process we are working our reactions to that person, which are under our control, not their behaviour, which is not. Find a quite time in a room with two, or more, chairs. For the purposes of this example, we’ll pretend the difficult person is your male boss who terrifies you, change the details to fit your own personal antagonist.

  • Settle yourself comfortably in the first chair (we’ll call this chair A) and imagine as vividly as you can that your boss (or whoever) is sat in the other chair (B). As you imagine him sitting there, looking the way he looks, talking in the way he talks, doing whatever he does that prompts your negative response, notice your reactions.
  • Pay careful attention to how you feel, how do you react to him, are you: afraid, angry, insulted, intimidated, disgusted, …. it might be a whole constellation of different reactions, just note them for the moment.
  • Pick the strongest feeling (lets pretend you’re afraid of him) and start the usual kind of tapping routine: Even though I’m afraid of him I deeply and completely accept myself’ (karate chop point x 3), then all the points using ‘afraid’ as the reminder phrase.
  • Keep doing tapping rounds until the fear has gone – this might take several rounds, as you’re doing this other ideas and reactions may come into your mind just keep a note of them.
  • Now look again at your imaginary antagonist, are there any other reactions to him? Now that the fear has gone you might notice other reactions such as ‘He patronises me’, or ‘He looks like my dad!’, or “I feel like such a fool”. These are more aspects to tap on.
  • If ‘ feeling patronised’ is the main reaction tap on that next: “Even though I feel patronised by him…. etc, etc, etc”. Keep going until the patronised feeling is gone
  • Now look again at your antagonist, what other negative reactions are there. Go through all of your reactions to him one at a time tapping them all to zero. If you have had a long standing relationship of some sort with this person, there are probably going to be a lot of aspects to clear up.
  • By this time when you look over at your former antagonist in chair B you should be feeling quite neutral or, even well disposed towards them.

You could stop at this point having achieved a much more resourceful reaction to them. I’m pretty sure when you see them again your interactions will be different, that’s certainly my experience with using this. But there’s more, if you want it, you can start to shift some of the underlying and often hidden assumptions you have about them which get in the way of productive relationships.

Sometimes we don’t only react to what someone else is doing but to what we think, they are thinking of us. Have you ever been in the situation where you thought someone didn’t like you and so you became a bit ‘huffy’ towards them as a result, only to find out later that they did like you, it’s a bit embarrassing to be caught out this way. This part of the processes addresses the ideas that we think they have about us, it also gives us a chance to step outside ourselves and see ourselves from someone else’s perspective.

  • Having cleared up your initial reaction to that person, imagine what it would be like if you could leave yourself behind in the chair. Try standing up and leaving your ‘body’ behind in the chair. Give yourself a little shake to dislodge those earlier feelings. Now imagine that you can step into that other persons point of view by just sitting down in chair B into your picture of that person.
  • Sit down ‘into them’ and settle in, imagine what it would be like to be them, sit like them, breathe like them. You know the old saying about stepping into another person’s shoes, well this is a physical way to do that for a little while. Take a moment to look a back at chair A (where you were sitting just a moment ago). From your antagonists point of view. What does that you in chair A look like? What reaction do you (as the antagonist) have to that other you over there in chair A? It can often be quite surprising to see ourselves from another’s perspective.
  • You start to notice ideas or negative opinions about you from their perspective, for example (continuing the boss example) ‘They don’t know what they’re doing, I always have to tell them what to do!’. These kind of reactions are a good candidates for tapping. Even though ‘I have to tell them what to do’…….. ‘I have to tell them’ ..tap, tap, tap etc etc. So as you pretend to be them, tap for those negative reactions. (Remember the purpose of this is to tap out the negative ideas you think they have about you and are responding to). Keep tapping until that’s tapped out.
  • Now look back and see what, as your antagonist, your reaction is to that you left back in chair A. Perhaps there’s more, negative stuff to work through. Tap it all out until when you look back your reaction to that other you is neutral or even positive. (Remember even though you seem to be tapping for someone else, all these ideas and perceptions exist in your body/mind, they are your idea of what they think)
  • Now it’s time to get back into your own body, step up out of chair B and shake off that other person. Move over to chair A and sit down back into yourself and your own thoughts and feelings. Take some time to settle in this is where you belong.
  • Finally check out how you feel about yourself and this other person now. If you’ve been thorough I think you’ll notice quite a difference in your reactions.

This is all fine and dandy but what happens when you meet this person in reality. Well, my experience has been that it’s been a much more comfortable encounter, or at least I’ve been much more comfortable and resourceful than I had otherwise been. Try it out for yourself.

5 thoughts on “Dealing with Difficult People”

  1. I posted this response from ‘a satisfied customer’ in one of my earliest newsletters. I’m reproducing it here to add a user reaction to the technique.

    Hi Andy

    Just a quick response to your post of yesterday – I have followed your suggestions and feel great relief, much calmer and peaceful, a million thanks:-)

    Now I feel more in control of my response to the long ongoing feud whereas yesterday I was in despair, sick with worry, fear and panic.


  2. This looks great. I’ve just printed the article and am going to use it on a particularly stressing incident that occurred at work.

    Will let you know what comes of it.

    Thanks coach mat

  3. Glad you liked it. I’ve found it a very useful process for dealing with mutually unhelpful reactions. It’s also dropped me into some very deep and surprising insights into what’s going on for the other person which is a very worthwhile bonus.


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