How to manage precious and difficult people

How to manage precious and difficult people

Michelle Gibbings is the author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’

BY Michelle Gibbings, 5 min READ

We all have people in our personal and professional life who we find challenging. We may label them as ‘precious’, ‘difficult’ or ‘hard work’. The typical approach to managing people such as this is try to avoid them or find a way to work around them.

In fact, we should do the opposite. We need to spend more time with them. When you spend more time with a person you have the opportunity to better understand their perspectives and what motivates and drives their behaviour.

Stephen Covey, the author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

We all interpret the world and what is happening through the lens of our own experience. Consequently, it’s very easy to misinterpret a person’s intent or think we know what a person is thinking or why they are behaving in a certain way.

By seeking to understand a person we suspend judgement and drop the labels by being curious, open-minded and interested in them. All of which puts us in a far better position to cultivate a healthy relationship with them.

 Listen first, talk later

People want to feel they have been heard and the needs listened to. When they don’t they’ll either take one of two ends of the spectrum – withdraw from the conversation or find ways to destabilise or aggravate the conversation.

In contrast, when a person feels heard they feel valued and that they matter to you. This is because they can hear that their point of view has been considered and that you are interested in what they have to say.

Listening effectively is about being genuinely interested and curious as to what is being said and not said. You are seeking to understand what the other person needs and so you listen with empathy and compassion.

This means you ask questions and seek to clarify what you’ve heard before sharing your ideas or providing a solution.   By doing this you acknowledge how they feel and take the time to recognise what they need.

Challenge your reaction

When you feel frustrated or annoyed by the actions of others, it’s important to challenge your immediate response.

A reactive response is usually not done from the wisest mindset, and is therefore potentially harmful for your health, relationships and leadership brand.

A considered response is one where you are naturally curious as to what is happening, what may be triggering a reaction and why you are feeling or wanting to react in a certain way.

This approach isn’t about ignoring how you feel. Instead, it’s about making sense of your feelings and acknowledging them. It’s accepting the fact that in many cases, the cause of the frustration is less important than the meaning you place on it and what you chose to do about it.

It’s only once you have this level of understanding that you are in a position to effectively know how to best respond and what action to take.

So next time you come across a person at work or in your personal life who you find difficult or precious, ask yourself:

  • Why am I feeling like this?
  • Why does it matter to me?
  • What meaning am I giving to this situation?
  • What else could it mean?
  • What would a wise response be?

You may be pleasantly surprised as to what happens when you ponder, reflect and consider, before you react and respond.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them accelerate progress. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’. For more information: or contact


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