Difficult people…we all have to deal with them, right? Wrong. I am certain there is no such thing. Our approach to dealing with others is usually a direct reflection of our perspective, one that, for many, is based on a misunderstanding, or an incomplete awareness, of human behavior: People do not create problems because they have nothing better to do; they direct their lives according to their needs, wants, and desires—their internal drives—which are dictated by their value system.
We only perceive people as being difficult when they challenge our values. When they give us what we want, they’re smart, good peeps, going places. Some say it’s best to “remove toxic people from your life,” but I’ve got to tell you, everybody is toxic when they aren’t giving us what we want. Our minds do that: respond to unfulfilled desires by making out the denier to be public enemy number one—a human obstacle, a force to be resisted, maybe even conquered. And while there is no doubt that different degrees of toxicity reside within the human perceptual spectrum, usually the more somebody challenges our values, the more toxic they become. But this is a severe misunderstanding of human nature. People are not out to make our lives difficult. In fact, most people aren’t even thinking about our lives at all—they are simply thinking about what they want.
Everybody has things they are trying to achieve or accomplish, the things they desire; and these correlate with each individual’s unique value system, a person’s intrinsic drivers. Understanding this first principle of human behavior is crucial to having good interactions with others: Everyone wants what will move them closer to fulfilling their values. Being aware of this can help you build a strategy of interaction that, hopefully, serves everybody involved.
The first step in interacting with a challenging person, then, is to stop thinking of them as difficult; they want something, simple as that. Your task is to find out what that something is—what does that person value? Now, sometimes, you can tell just by looking at a person—first appearances are known to shape our overall impressions—but, very often, you have to do a bit of homework to get a feel for what that person really wants.
But the easiest approach is to just ask what the person is looking for, or what they wish to accomplish. I assure you that asking is a lot more practical than guessing and then dealing with potential consequences later. Ignoring the other person’s drives altogether or, worse, just focusing on what you want, is the quickest way to failure, misunderstanding, or maybe even the cause of some bad blood between you.
Now, if you can find out what another person wants, you’ve increased your chances of having a successful interaction exponentially; and in personal or business relationships, this is crucial. Just remember that all people operate off their drives, and whether that something is concrete, like a business transaction, or more ethereal, like recognition, praise or a sense of value, it’s people’s drives that move them to interact with you or anybody else.
This is also true for you. You want things, have desires, and are trying to fulfill your highest values, as well; and these, of course, come into play anytime you interact with others. So the next step is to find a way to frame what you want in terms of what the other person wants. A true win-win situation: How to get what you value by helping someone else get what they value. Poetry in motion.
But what some people want is not always congruent with what you want, and compromising your values is not a wise option. Doing so will most certainly lead to resentment, which can be an insidious obstacle to your peace of mind, or to future relations. If you determine that what you and the other person wants is incompatible, then nothing says you need to continue the interaction or the relationship. The sooner you are able to recognize this, the better it will be for the both of you.
I really believe there are no difficult people, just people wanting to fulfill their values. Consciously and subconsciously, people move toward fulfilling what they want in life. So you can let go of toxic people all you want to—you’ll merely meet others that don’t want exactly what you want. Isn’t it worthwhile to find out what the other person wants and then try to make it work for the both of you? Think about how this applies to business, diplomacy and your day-to-day family dynamics. We get what we want easier when we help others get what they want—something we should all remember when dealing with people.