Salesman trying to convince a doubtful customer showing products in a tablet at workplace

On the path to success and happiness, you are going to meet a lot of people. Some of these are going to be wonderful, supportive, cooperative colleagues with whom your relationship is mutually beneficial. You will see their presence as a support to your success, and you’ll wish the same for them on their own journeys.

Then there are the others who were the inspiration for my book, You Can Teach a Pig To Sing.” These are the less than cooperative, occasionally downright nasty, personalities whose presence and influence you tolerate rather than enjoy. Still, you can expect that many of these less than likable people are going to meet you at some point on your journey, and you will have no choice but to handle the relationship.

Needless to say, managing these relationships with as much finesse as possible is crucial to your success. Furthermore, nobody in any position of influence or authority will ever get there without encountering a person with whom they are at odds. While relationship management in these situations seems impossible in some cases, the fact remains that cooperation must be attained somehow.

However, there is good news.

Your success in dealing with people doesn’t depend on them – it depends on you. You can gain the skills and tools it takes to effectively manage people – difficult or not. Regardless of what a difficult person says or does, the power is in your hands to create positive change. You are in control of your actions at all times, regardless of what anyone else says or does. Here are some ideas to get you started toward effectively managing someone you may be struggling with.

  • Have a vision of what you want your relationship to look like. This is essential, as you are the one who will be the catalyst for change in the strained relationship. What do you need from this person? Is this a working relationship? A “political” one? A personal one?  You do not need to become friends, but what does a functioning relationship look like for you?A client of mine once told me of a difficult colleague she was working with who was interfering with her ability to advance professionally. She didn’t like this man and he didn’t like her, but she had no choice but to work with him. She applied this principle of creating a vision for the relationship. Later, she reported that once she shifted her vision for their interactions, she was surprised at how her mind had come up with creative solutions for managing this difficult person in her life. They had not magically become friends, but she had found ways to work amicably with him in spite of their personality differences. Simply a change of vision from one person was all it took to create a major shift in the relationship.
  • Examine your behavior when you’re around that person. Take a hard, honest look and be prepared to accept that you may be contributing to the problem in some way. People reflect the attitude we present. If you got off on the wrong foot with someone and have stayed there, it’s likely that you are contributing, unknowingly, to the rut you’re in with this person.What do you see in others that you are choosing to not see in this person? (You may not even realize you are choosing it, but you are!) When you see them, do you put up a mental barrier of some kind? What does your body language and facial expression communicate to them? Spoken language accounts for only 10% of communication. The other 90% is all nonverbal, and of course it speaks a great deal more than our words do. What does that crucial 90% of your communication look (and sound) like with this person? Furthermore, if their body language matched yours during a conversation, how would it make you feel?
  • Choose to see the good in your difficult person. This phrase sounds rather cliche these days, so it’s often brushed aside while we wait for the newest pearl of wisdom, and that’s a shame. Because truthfully this is an essential skill for any leader. You must choose to see those with whom you work as exceptional, because in some capacity, they are. The way that you choose to see a person will be reflected in the way that you treat them, whether you realize it or not. I once read that 95% of our actions are based on our thoughts. So, spend some time in reflection, and find a redeeming quality in this person. Fixate on it, and choose to genuinely appreciate it.

When managing a difficult relationship, always start with yourself. You are one half of that relationship after all. Choose to be deliberate about managing yourself to achieve your vision, and you may just be surprised at the results you see.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I need to contribute more of to this relationship?
  • What do I need from this person that I’m not currently getting? (It’s hard to manage how we express ourselves if we don’t know what thoughts and emotions are driving us.)
  • When I think of this person and our interactions, do I expect the best or the worst? Why?
  • What strategies have I tried to effectively manage this relationship that has failed?
  • What is my next step with your problem person?

To enhance your personal and business success and happiness, why not choose to take action to turn a difficult relationship around. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it.

As Amelia Earhart once said: The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.


  1. Mary Jane,

    Your article was a great review of what you discussed in the Ohio EPA workshop last year. I sent a link for the article to Cindy.

    I hope you enjoyed the holidays and that we have a chance to talk again, soon.


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