Helping Difficult People
Professional Masochism? © Martyn Carruthers

Many difficult people are immature – stuck in childish emotions.
To help them professionally, first learn how to solve their difficult behaviors.

Here are some tips and pointers for working with difficult people.

Super-Vision for Coaches, Counselors & Therapists

Points worth remembering:

  1. Your communication skills can help or hurt people
  2. Your clients pay you to meet them in their own reality
  3. You are, or should be, able to cope with most common issues
  4. Your most difficult clients may be people who are quite like you
  5. Some difficult clients simply have issues that you cannot recognize
  6. If your difficult people could communicate well – they might not be difficult
  7. Few people intend to be difficult – they respond to crisis and disappointments

People who lie easily will often not trust you
… they rarely trust themselves.

Difficult Clients & Professional Masochism

Anybody can be difficult sometimes … and some people seem to be difficult always. Is their difficulty a reflection of your competence or does it reflect how you select clients? Or what? The people you call difficult may say that they’re doing the best they can to communicate … and that you just won’t listen!

Although difficult people may require more of your time and energy – they can be your best teachers! Here are ten types of difficult people … and some solutions.

1. Yes-No people may keep coming back, but they don’t fulfill their agreements. They may have creative excuses but they show little motivation to achieve their goals.

  • Find their real goals … and motivation will flow
  • Explore their advantages for sabotaging themselves
  • Dissolve their unconscious objections to their own success

2. “Yes, but … ” people may say that they want to change, but they cannot because of their age / children / job / parents / education / etc. Listen to their stories carefully! Then find and resolve their benefits for not changing (often called resistance or denial).

  • Expose their real objections
  • Discover what is under their excuses
  • Learn and use our “Yes, but…” resolution

3. Age regressed people … childish adults … often have idealistic goals, which they typically want yesterday! They may often be late and complain about the fees that they agreed to pay. They may hope that you will parent them with free coaching.

  • Do you want to coach children in adult bodies?
  • Do they want to grow up and take responsibility?
  • Consider referring immature adults to other psychologists

4. Complaining people may have few goals, only complaints. They may want to talk about why their life is such a mess – and who they blame – but not about how and when they will clean up their lives.

  • Listen carefully
  • Consider increasing your fees
  • We provoke such people – and if they leave, that’s OK too.

5. Withdrawn people seem to wait passively. They answer questions with “I don’t know” or with clouds of abstract words but no message. They may withhold important information. They may be in crisis, they may have been abused by a mentor or they may have suffered identity loss in some trauma or cult.

  • Be patient!
  • Avoid nagging them to tell you more.
  • Ask open-ended questions that require more than yes or no answers.

6. Aggressive or sarcastic people may force their viewpoint on you and may attack you verbally. They may be angry and dogmatic. They may feel helpless in situations they find intolerable. They may be responding to a current injustice, be bonded to a parent, or have identified with a victim.

  • Avoid attacking them
  • Try not to defend or justify yourself
  • Ask them to relax and explain calmly what they want to say. (Listening peacefully may provide a calm space for discussing priorities, goals and strategies.)

7. Know-it-all people may consider themselves experts and show little patience for your obvious lack of experience. They may be expressing fixations or enmeshments or they simply feel superior to you.

  • Avoid feeling intimidated
  • Stay in control of the session
  • Listen carefully and consider if you want to continue

8. Victim people may claim that they were treated unfairly. They may communicate their pain and cling to their suffering. They complain, blame, criticize and justify. They may be responding to victimization and they may claim that you are victimizing them.

  • Avoid “Yes, but …” ping pong
  • Ask them for suggestions on improving their lives
  • Offer three suggestions that may improve their situation

9. Melancholic and “No-people” may say little good about your or anybody’s ideas, and try to convince you that you cannot help them, or that their continuing problems reflect your incompetence. They may have suffered a loss, be codependent or have identified with a dead person.

  • Avoid trying to reform them
  • Invite them to suggest alternatives
  • Expect them to withdraw if you get frustrated or irritated …

10. Passive-aggressive and “Yes-people” may pretend to agree with you to gain your acceptance … and then tell people what a horrible person you are. They may have suffered abuse or betrayal, or have been damaged by a mentor.

  • Consider how you attract such people …
  • Coach them to follow through on what they agree to do
  • Discourage them from agreeing to more commitments than they can handle

11. BONUS People like yourself. Sometimes you will encounter people whose problems are so like to your own that you risk becoming overly empathic or friendly. Neither of these states will help them or you.

  • Avoid giving advice that is really for yourself
  • If you feel jealous of their success – refer them elsewhere
  • You will attract people who have your own unresolved issues

We help adults choose, define and achieve their success.
We also help people solve emotional and relationship problems.

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