Bob Burg: Tips on Dealing with Difficult People

Sure, people can be difficult, whether it’s the representative who you’re trying to obtain satisfaction from at the customer service desk, the bureaucrat who seems intent on delaying your permit to build that new addition to your home, or the moody prospect or client who seems to cause knots in your stomach every time you have to stop by and visit.

However, according to author and expert Bob Burg, in dealing with others, we need to make a decision as to whether we want to be right or be effective. The good news is that, when we are effective, we also become right. When we can teach ourselves to like a person (even a person who is difficult to like), that person will sense it, and most likely will feel the same way about us. And once people like us, it’s much easier to feel good about them—a delightful cycle of success.

While we might wish they would make that first positive move, we know that, chances are, they will not. Thus, it’s up to us (and when I say “us” I mean “you”). There’s no reason you can’t change your mindset to feel good about them first.

It is exactly this place where we need to realize that action precedes feeling, as Dr. David Schwartz explained in his classic The Magic of Thinking Big. Counterintuitive? Without a doubt. True? Absolutely.

This is not to be confused with positive expectation (another effective method, where the focus is on the other person and the expectation of a positive outcome), but is instead actually about changing our thoughts about ourselves and our feelings.

So, how do you feel good about someone you really don’t like? The way to feel it is to first act it!

Again: Action precedes feeling. It’s amazing how it works.

For example, a person is sad. Do they need to have a happy incident occur to them before they can be happy? No, it’s been proven that if you act happy, you will become happy. Happiness is independent of external circumstances (which doesn’t mean there aren’t external circumstances that can legitimately cause sadness, but not as a general way of being). Change your actions and you’ll change your emotions.

For example, smile big and just try to feel sad. You can’t do it. If you’re feeling lazy and lethargic, straighten up, walk tall, walk fast, walk with purpose and energy, and that’s exactly how you’ll begin to feel.

So, take action—take positive action—practice feeling good about a difficult person you know by acting good, acting benevolently, acting joyously toward that difficult person. Yes, at first it is an act. And, that’s OK. You are acting your way into feeling, into actually liking that person. Perfectly acceptable. Then, when the person picks up on your action and feeling and relates more kindly and benevolently toward you in return, your good feelings really will be true.

How much more profitable is it to genuinely like your client? How much more profitable is it for him or her to genuinely like you? As I’ve said before, all things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust. That like part is pretty important.


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