Crack the Code for Dealing with Difficult People

Do grumpy, bossy, fussy, energy vampires exist in the world of insurance? Yep! Be the best of the best in business by gracefully managing even the most difficult people.

Insurance professionals seek customer service excellence. This can be illusive given the crankiness inspired by ever-changing insurance processes, deadlines, pricing, and wishful thinking.

Difficult people are everywhere —at work, at home, in traffic, and even on vacation.
Clients want more for less without sticking to enrollment deadlines. Colleagues get angry; they whine, cry, curse, avoid work, know it all, and become moody. Business owners hire poorly, fail to set clear expectations, miscommunicate, change their minds, grump, demean, and forget to give kudos when due.

Luckily, the worst in all of us brings out the best of the best in business. “Difficult people are irritants; they can help us make pearls,” my mother, said. Difficult people hone our personal power, attitude, and or skills.

We have all taken turns creating a long string of pearls. With so much practice, why do we still get so bothered and distracted?

Crack the Code!
Dealing with difficult people requires mastery of 2Es: Empathy and Education. If we dive into the task of understanding what makes us all tick, free of harsh judgements, we can respond graciously and effectively to almost anyone. Kindness is key.

Empathy comes from knowing ourselves, others, and situational contexts. True empathy requires vulnerability and judgement-free curiosity. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be painful and frightening. Who wants to feel what a toxic person feels? No worries. Toxic people are only contagious if we allow them to change our own behavior. It’s a choice, just like happiness. Mindfulness of your intention to create great working relationships helps you fight off negativity.

Don’t stop short of empathy to land on compassion. Compassion is the lowest level of empathy. Making rote sympathetic statements with all the right words and none of the heart needed for authentic leadership adds to the problem. Trigger Awareness and Self-Awareness Inventories are powerful tools for building empathy.

Trigger Awareness Inventory is about them. Understanding others and our own triggers is essential. As with much of life, the questions you ask are more impactful than the answers. Be specific.

1. Ask yourself, “Why does this difficult person behave the way they do? What triggers them?”
2. Ask yourself, “How might they feel?”
3. Ask yourself, “What underlying beliefs drives this feeling?”
4. From their point of view, ask “How do I contribute in any way to this?”

Self-awareness Inventory is about you. In any organization, knowing yourself and your team is vital to your mission and bomarttom line. Without self-awareness, we cannot truly feel empathy. Ask yourself these questions. Be brave. Be honest. Be specific.

1. Take a hot minute. Do a core dump of all the people interactions and things that are bothering you right now. Is the list longer than anticipated?
2. Ask yourself, “Why does this set me off? What triggers me about this person or situation?”
3. Ask yourself, “How do I react?”
4. “How am I difficult? How do I contribute in any way to this person being difficult or seeming to be difficult?”
5. “For which types of people am I most difficult?”

With our empathy practice reinforced, it’s time for education. It’s up to you to teach others how you’d like to be treated. Since we cannot change others, focus on impact. Four steps create great working relationships with individuals, teams, and organizations.

1. Identify your intentions
2. Set the tone
3. Clarify expectations
4. Model empathy

What impact do you have on others when you walk into a room? Do people smile? Are they glad? Do you inspire diarrhea? Impact is all about identifying your intentions and creating an environment that backs up those intentions. Setting a tone where others feel safe being innovative, productive, and learning from mistakes. Invite ideas and brainstorm to inspire other to be the best of the best.

Clarify expectations through straightforward conversations and thoughtful reactions when misunderstandings occur. Public praise and private scolding go a long way toward inviting excellence.

Modeling empathy with customers and colleagues is by far the best way to invite excellence as we step up to crack the code for dealing with difficult people.

Be the best of the best in business. With empathy and education, we can manage any situation for better relationships and healthier bottom lines.

Be the Best of the Best in Business! Find more helpful hints at Questions: Contact Margarita Gurri, PhD, CSP at +1-844-Dr-RedShoe (+1-844-377-3774) or Author: The Ethical Speaker, Trilogy of Anger, Anglican Prayer Beads, and co-author The Happiness Recipe. Podcasts: Step Up, wisdom from the best of the best in business and Touch Base Tuesdays for military families.

Written for Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies’ Newsletter, January 2018