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How to Handle Difficult People

By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine

Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, (McGraw-Hill Publishing, 2002; $12.95) Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner teach you how to identify common problem personalities, and use your knowledge to gain control of stressful situations. The book also provides strategies to improve your negotiation skills and foster better communication with others.

The book opens with a “10 Most Unwanted List,” short character sketches of the most common obnoxious personalities. Later chapters provide additional detail on each type and along with action plans on how to deal with them. The rogue’s gallery of personality defects include:

  • The Tank. Confrontational and angry, tanks bulldoze over anybody who gets in their way. Holding your ground is essential to dealing with them.
  • The Sniper. Snide, sarcastic, and flat-out mean, snipers attempt to make you feel foolish. Dealing directly and assertively with them puts you on common ground.
  • The Grenade. Prone to remaining silent about perceived abuses until they’re ready to explode, grenades are walking billboards for the dangers of repression. Establish clear lines of communication before they blow up.
  • The Know-it-all. Possessing a low tolerance for correction and contradiction, know-it-alls are nevertheless quick to blame others. Preparation and a willingness to give them their due will smooth interactions with these people.
  • The Think-They-Know-It-All. Desperate for attention, think-they-know-it-alls use their charm to grab the limelight and hold onto it, whether or not they actually know what they’re talking about. Give them a little attention, but know when to rein them in.
  • The Yes Person. Eager to please, yes people agree without thinking things through, overcommitting themselves rather than disappointing someone. Help them learn to plan, and encourage honest communication at every turn.
  • The Maybe Person. The kings and queens of wishy-washy behavior, maybe people equivocate and procrastinate until the decision is taken out of their hands. Be patient, and develop their objective decision-making skills.
  • The Nothing Person. A real nowhere man, the nothing person provides no feedback. Ask open-ended questions to draw them from their shells.
  • The No Person. Eternal pessimists, no people reject ideas out of hand. Try to redirect their negative energy towards problem solving–ask why the idea won’t work and what can be done to fix the problem.
  • The Whiner. Life is a tragedy to whiners, who feel overwhelmed by the unfair world around them and feel compelled to share their misery with everyone else. Listen for their main points, then, once again, redirect their energy toward problem solving.

Each of these personality types is really an exaggeration of a desirable trait. For example, wanting to do the job right makes a worker valuable. But becoming so obsessed with perfection that you turn into a no person and reject everything as less than perfect leads to problems.

Once you’ve identified the problem personality types you regularly encounter, the book offers four options–stay and do nothing, walk away, change your attitudes about the person, or change your behavior. Dealing with People You Can’t Stand concentrates on the later two, showing you how to understand where difficult people are coming from and how to deal with them effectively.

Each of the ten problem personalities is discussed in detail in an individual chapter. For instance, instead of getting frustrated when “maybe” people equivocate, the book advises clarifying the vaguely defined obstacles that are keeping them from making decisions. Putting the pluses and minuses of each option down on paper can help these undecideds feel more comfortable. Work to establish personal rapport and create a comfort zone where maybes can evaluate their decision effectively. And avoid showing anger at all costs; it will just make the maybes vacillate more.

The book also shows you how to avoid communications gaps when you’re not dealing with someone face to face. These communication strategies are especially important for real estate professionals, since most depend extensively on phones and e-mails to stay in touch with buyers and sellers. Some of the book’s advice is just common sense. For instance, it includes such chestnuts as placing a mirror on your desk to remind you to smile when talking on the phone. But the book also offers practical advice, such waiting and rereading a troubling e-mail message or even getting a second opinion on what a writer means before firing off an angry reply. The authors point out that many e-mail flame wars ignite because one person misreads another’s intent.

Many real estate professionals get into the business because they love people. But some people are less lovable with others. Dealing with People You Can’t Stand shows you how to cope with the less pleasant individuals you run into on a daily basis without raising your blood pressure. They might not be able to stop being jerks, but you can learn to stop being bothered by them.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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