The Challenges of Dealing with Difficult People“Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  George Carlin

Have you ever dealt with a difficult individual?  More than likely the answer is yes.  If you’ve been around the block a few times, there is no doubt that you’ve encountered at least one difficult person.

However, this isn’t about someone having a bad day or just being in a bad mood.  We’ve all been there. This is more about those people who seem to thrive on misery and your company.  A day doesn’t go by in which a truly difficult person is not difficult.  They have been this way so long that it has become a part of their personality.

For a cop, dealing with difficult individuals seems to be more the norm than the exception.  However, difficult individuals are not just the people encountered on the street.  In fact, many can actually be found right in your own departments.  The sad fact is that many of these individuals may be unaware that they are difficult to deal with.

Some have just slipped into a rut of being upset, negative, and overly pessimistic. Many more are unable to get out of this rut. Though I do not condone such behavior, there is something to be said for constantly dealing with the negative aspects of society. It also seems logical that one could become negative or difficult, especially in a career field dominated by type-A personalities, in which everyone wants their way.

The easy part is identifying these “challenging” individuals. The hard part often remains dealing with them. So how do you effectively deal with these individuals, while maintaining your sanity?

First, remember this is their problem, not yours. Some people just live for turmoil.  They argue just for the sake of arguing and some seem to go out of their way to be difficult. There are also those people who are insecure and jealous and may find fault in anything that brings others attention.

Regardless of why difficult people are difficult, you are responsible for how you act and react to the individual and the situation. Do not allow your emotions to get the better of you. Being able to lash back may feel good momentarily, but in time you may regret how you acted. Trust me, this is often easier said than done. The natural reaction is to snap back in self-defense.  However, the power remains in the ability to manage your emotions – or at least being able to manage them until a level head prevails.

As with any difficult situation, you must first decide whether you will engage. Is this really something they want to fight about, argue over, or remain upset over? Oftentimes, these situations are not resolved easily and honestly, they may never be resolved. According to Dr. Allan Zimmerman, if you decide to engage, the following questions must be asked: “Does a threat exist?” “Is it worth a fight?” And “If I fight, can I make a difference?” Once each is asked, you should be able to answer yes to all three before deciding to engage.

The first question alludes to whether or not the person is infringing on your happiness or personal success. If that is the case, then by all means you need to address the issue. If the issue cannot be resolved by talking to the other person, you may have to go to their supervisor.

Some difficult people remain difficult because they are never challenged, and seemingly, they are just allowed to be difficult. The second question merely involves weighing the pros and cons of the situation. If you believe nothing good will result, then maybe it is best to leave it alone. This really involves you being honest with yourself.

If however, you believe that something good may occur, take a chance and engage the individual.  Lastly, if you engage the difficult individual and feel it is worth the fight, will it ultimately make a difference? Will the difficult behavior stop? Will the confrontation make the difficult individual more aware of their behavior?

Well, we cannot predict the future. However, when engaging a difficult person, we need to do it in a way that will help, not hinder the situation.  Remember, if it doesn’t work, you still have to see this person and possibly deal with them. Don’t make things worse. We cannot predict the future, but sometimes engaging a difficult person needs to occur. Maybe for your sanity or maybe for them to see that they may be being unreasonable. Dr. Zimmerman provides some great advice.

In addition, I would suggest planning a script in your head. Know what you will say and how you will say it. Difficult people often use tactics like being boisterous, obnoxious, and unpredictable. This is how they “win.” They will often pull you into their trap without really trying. If they catch you off guard, you are likely to act out or act in a way that makes you look like the difficult person. Being prepared will give you the advantage and a piece of mind.

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Dr. Zimmerman

Dr. Olivia Johnson holds a master’s in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri, St. Louis and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership Management from the University of Phoenix – School of Advanced Studies. Perseverance in raising awareness to officer wellness resulted in her being named the Illinois State Representative for the National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation. This role led to her being invited to speak at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit’s 2010 – Beyond Survival Toward Officer Wellness (BeSTOW) Symposium. Dr. Johnson is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a former police officer. She collaborates with several journals regarding law enforcement and military issues and is the expert in police leadership issues writer for Law Enforcement Today. Her services are contracted out by Crisis Systems Management to train military personnel worldwide on Critical Incident Peer Support (CIPS).