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.

3 Responses to The Art of Human Interaction

  1. Avatar Natalia says:

    Yes, Dr. Nick Campos.
    I believe you are right about it.
    The one more thing concerning this subject that should be mentioned there is compromise agreement. If people/partners really value the relationships, I suppose, they are open to discussion and difficult misunderstanding can be put away by a good compromise.If the situation is not crucial.
    And in fact we are too deepened in ourselves sometimes so that we use the easiest way of saying “someone is difficult” instead of trying to understand “a new” point of view.
    Thank you.

  2. Avatar Jana DiCioccio says:

    Hi Dr.Campos.Another subject you should write a book about. You wouldn’t believe the stats. on how many people are looking for communication skills books and how to deal
    with relationship difference’s ect. I have pretty much read everything out there and most are not good. These books seem more manipulative in nature. I don’t know if you’ve heard of NLP neuro linguists programming.Not easy to understand however the science behind NPL makes a lot of sense when it comes to why people find others difficult or why people have difficulty communicating. The principle being that while we may (for say) speak American English but we really all speak in 1 of 3 subcategories of a language which is 1 big reason we miscommunication and find one another difficult. These three ways of communicating founded by NLP research are visual representations,Auditory representations and Kinaesthetic representations. People with visual use visual words when speaking while auditory people will use auditory words and Kinaesthetic people will use sensation words to communicate. So I listen to people closely to figure out which one of these three they may fall into and it takes a lot of practice (I’m not seasoned yet at this) but a good communicator will learn to communicate in another person NLP natural language preference and it takes a lot of the miscommunication out of the equation. Also when you communicate in the same NLP form as another they bond better to you as well. People usually don’t click with others that have different values and morals and if people aren’t of the same opinion or not open minded then it often is deemed difficult to get along with one another (and this doesn’t have to be the case) I agree with you on what you have said in your blog
    however while I do agree I have to add that most people do not think like you and are not as open minded as you and are not willing to let outsiders in. This is why I think it is best to understand the why and what’s of people and will listen closely to people before communicating. Now online is a different story. I’m lost here as you can see. If I spoke to you in person I would be listening to you for quite a while before I’d say a word. Thanks for the blog. I love reading your messages that are so positive and helpful! (p.s. i left out body language which people communicate through body language much more than vocally..don’t get me started on that. that would be a book) and as Plato stated “Head over heart, heart over wants and needs”..if you organize your life in this manner all things fit into place.


  3. Avatar Natalia Fedorova says:

    Dr. Nick Campos, a agree with you, but the problem is people may not always be telling you the truth when asked.

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