At first glance it would be understandable to think that the title of Alan Fairweather’s book, How To Manage Difficult People, promises far more than any self-help publication can plausibly deliver.
But Fairweather has put together a readable, psycho babble-free analysis of how to get the best out of others, and a practical guide to dealing with the hostile language they sometimes use.
And the best thing is that having started out as a salesman, his insights on how to deal with people in real life sales situations are invaluable.
Our lives are defined by our interactions with others, be they lovers, co-workers, customers, family or friends. And when these relationships turn sour it can have a disastrous effect on our personal and professional lives.
But the first stumbling block Fairweather identifies is that the awkward person causing problems in your everyday life may in fact be yourself.
So first you need to consider – could it be your interactions with others that are leading to the negative responses you are experiencing?
Using a series of practical examples Fairweather breaks down the behaviours we display into six categories – fun, passive, defiant, caring, controlling and thinking.
Then, as in a game of rock, paper, scissors, he tells us which behaviour is best at combating or nullifying another. And his conclusion is that the best method is usually to get other people into thinking mode.
Individuals are driven by their emotions so if you can shift them away from dwelling on how angry they are and instead get them thinking about how you can address a problem and work with them, you can get a grip on any situation.
When faced with a difficult issue, we instinctively either want to fight, flee as quickly as possible and thus deal passively with the situation, or simply freeze.
On that basis, a key question is whether the language we use encourages people to react in a certain way. It seems that if our behaviour is passive we are more likely to encourage an aggressive and controlling response from those we are dealing with.
So for example, the act of simply saying sorry is passive and puts you on the back foot. Fairweather says it’s better to state clearly that you apologise for whatever has gone wrong and then see how you can address the situation. And for those of you with untidy desks, he’s got a handy tip. If someone says your desk is a mess and questions how you can work that way your first reaction might be to argue that you don’t have time to keep it tidy. This, he says, is a passive response.
Far better to agree that it’s untidy. This is what Fairweather calls a negative assertion that denies the person attacking your workspace management style a comeback they might be able to capitalise on. In other words, you have agreed with them without pandering to their desire to see your desk tidy.
“Remember, you have the right to have an untidy desk,” argues Fairweather – a clear call to arms for office revolutionaries across the land.
So if you want to get better at turning difficult situations to your advantage and taking a degree in psychology is not on the cards, this is the book for you.
Book review by Robert Thickett