The topic of “Difficult People” and how to “deal” with them, is always a popular talking point no matter where I am or who I am working with.

If you do a web search on the topic you will find thousands of hits. Most are articles which claim to give you the “10 Best tips” or other similar insights; and there are also many training programs and books to help you gain some expertise.

If you have never had any training to deal with difficult situations, then these articles and training courses can be a very good start. And, these techniques will probably work in about 99% of situations.

Even though I had been trained and coached in conflict management, and had studied extensively in my search for the best ways of managing people problems, it was not until I came across the concept of the Corporate Psychopath that I finally had some of the answers I had been searching for.

There really are certain people for whom the normal “rules” just do not apply; and the standard “top tips” will never fix.

Recently I worked with a client who came to me because she was struggling with her boss. When (let’s call her) Elizabeth described her manager’s behaviours, it was quite clear to me that she was dealing with this very special type of “difficult person”, quite likely a Corporate Psychopath.

The impact on Elizabeth over a period of 6 to 12 months had been that she went from being a very confident and competent employee, to second guessing her own work, and constantly anticipating harsh criticism from her boss (with good reason).

None of the “top tips” in any of the standard books or courses were going to solve this issue, because Elizabeth already had exceptional interpersonal skills, and had applied every one of them during the course of the previous 12 months.

The key to understanding these special Difficult People is to realise they really do not care at all about how you feel or what you want. They may be able to say those words, and they may have learned how to imitate a person who cares, but their actions will always betray their entirely self centred motivations.

Once you realise they will never have that “ah-huh” moment and start treating you with respect, you can let go of the hurt and indignation. You see, you aren’t going mad; this person really does not behave the way most people do. This person will never be able to see things from your perspective, because they either lack empathy, or simply do not care.

It is by understanding that these people will never respond the way people like you and I do, that you can re-claim your personal space and dignity, and can start to work out how you can get what you really need.

Another of my clients worked with me for over 12 months to learn how to implement new ways of managing her boss. This client ended up becoming the most respected and influential person in her team, because she was able to defuse her boss, and get everybody working together despite their manager’s dysfunction.

Another client needed to have one critical conversation with his manager. We covered off the details in the space of two 60 minute coaching sessions. The result was that he finally “broke through” and got what he wanted after nearly a decade of futile negotiations. Not only that, but his boss thanked him for his “professionalism and constructive input”.

That old adage “If you always do what you always do, you’ll always get what you always got” really applies to working with the genuinely hard core, Difficult Person.

If you find yourself responding to someone in a way that you don’t recognise as being your “normal” response, chances are you are dealing with a very Difficult Person.

If a person makes you fearful one moment, and then suddenly becomes the most engaging and charming person you know – you can be pretty sure you are dealing with one of these very special Difficult People.

There are some great resources available on this topic, and I have added a list of a few books I recommend at the end of this article.

This article is particularly interesting: Psychology: the man who studies everyday evil


However talking the situation through with someone who is able to see it objectively, can be the most powerful thing to do.

I do a lot of work helping people who are struggling to work with extremely difficult people. The reality is, you cannot relate to the Corporate Psychopath the way you relate to most other people.

Once you understand the “rules” you can break through and get your work/ life back.

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Recommended Reading:

Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry, Albert J. Bernstein, McGraw Hill,  2001

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, Paul Babiak & Robert D. Hare, Harper, 2006.

Working with Monsters: How to Identify and Protect Yourself from the Workplace Pychopath, John Clarke, Random House,2005