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Dealing With People Before They Become Difficult

Updated on December 14, 2021
Carolyn M Fields profile image

Carolyn Fields is a lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, and all-around bon vivant.

Different People, NOT Difficult People
Different People, NOT Difficult People | Source

Are There Really That Many “Difficult People” Out There?

There are numerous books and seminars currently offered on the topic of “difficult” or “problem” people.” In my research, I even ran across one book entitled, “Since Strangling Isn't An Option.” Seems that the workplace is just overflowing with so-called “jerks” and other people who are difficult to get along with . . . or is it, really?

I would like to propose an alternative perspective: there are very few truly “difficult” people – but there are many people who have needs that are not being met in one form or another, who have developed “trust” issues within an organization, or who have been misunderstood in one way or another. This ultimately leads to frustration, which can make anyone a little cranky.

My idea is to nip the problem in the bud, so to speak, and set ourselves up for success by establishing the tone for productive relationships right from the start - before they can get out of hand. The results can be amazing. And since interaction and collaboration with an ever more diverse workforce has become an indispensable part of the 21st Century workplace, isn’t it high time that we figured out some ways to deal with people before they become difficult?

Understanding The Other Person

Almost everyone has heard of Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. His fifth habit, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood,” is the cornerstone for the rest of this article. In terms of dealing with other people (before they become difficult, that is), this means to reflect your understanding of the other person’s perspective, where they are “coming from” so to speak, before putting forward your own agenda. Just think about the situations in your own life where you feel understood. How likely are you to become “difficult” with people who truly understand and appreciate your point of view?

Sounds like a good approach, doesn’t it? Just one problem – how can you quickly understand or “size up” the other person, in terms of preferences for interaction? Glad you asked! One useful lens I have discovered for discussing “people” issues, is a basic understanding of personality type.

While there are many ways to look at personality (from the “two types” of A and B, to E-Harmony’s 29 Personality Dimensions), my preference is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), with the Keirsey sorter. Remember: no single model is completely accurate, and all are really just tools for self-discovery. With that said, let’s take a tour of the four temperaments, and how we might use them in our quest for understanding other people.

The Four Temperaments

No, this is not a piece of music by Vivaldi! It is the work of David Keirsey, who grouped the 16 combinations found in the MBTI, and categorized them into four quadrants or temperaments: Rationals, Guardians, Idealists, and Artisans. While admittedly less precise, it can help us get a handle on other people’s orientations and probable reactions to situations more quickly than the original 16 types.

If you have not taken the MBTI, there are a number of resources available, both online and in book format. I leave that part to you. If you have taken the MBTI, take a minute to go and look up your results. What follows is a brief description of how one might use their knowledge of the four temperaments to deal with people (yes, before they become difficult).

Excellent Resource on Type

Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence
Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence
One of my favorite resources on understanding temperament and personality. Takes MBTI and converts it into four easy to remember types.


Rationals (or NT, Intuitive-Thinkers) are the theoretical, scientific types. They live in the future, and generally love technology. They have no difficulty establishing goals, and can be counted on to actively participate in the accomplishment of projects. They could spend hours in front of a computer, learning about the complexities of almost any topic. They are great “idea” people, but can have difficulty in the execution phase.

Give these people time to learn and reflect. Don’t ask for a spontaneous decision, without time to consider all the options. Support them with facts and data. They will not be moved by an “emotional” appeal – so don’t even try.


Guardians (or SJ, Sensate-Judgers) are the traditionalists. They make ideal administrators, and like (actually love) lists. They have their agenda well-planned, and are generally results-oriented. They will try to maintain focus, and get frustrated when people “drift.”

While Guardians are efficient managers, they made need others to push for innovation. Give these people the opportunity to acquire information and resources. Support them with procedures and policies. Stay on topic, and don’t put “play” before “work.” It’s just not done.


Artisans (or SP, Sensate-Perceivers) must be allowed to defend their freedom and spontaneity. Do, by all means, and wherever possible, put “play” before “work.” They have a lot of energy to “get things going,” but may need some help in the follow through.

Allow your Artisans opportunities to exercise their action-orientation. Support them with new, creative outlets for their energy and drive – but keep an eye on them if you really need a deliverable at a specific time.


Idealists (or NF, Intuitive-Feelers) are “people people.” They value harmony, and wisdom, and generally enjoy opportunities to develop others. They prefer “face-to-face” interaction, and can help with “cohesion” when working on a project team. They can keep a team “glued” together, but often find the business world too “mercenary.”

You’ll need to make sure that your Idealists have some opportunity for connection or “bonding” in the workplace. They need to actively dialogue with others around issues of importance or concern.

What is your Type?

Using the descriptions listed here, what is your type?

See results


Clearly, this was just a “sampling” or how temperament type can be used to enhance interpersonal relationships. I encourage you to read broadly on the topic, and find your own “best fit.”

Remember – all personality patterns will have trouble in a collaborative workplace when there are trust issues, or where their needs are not being met. Hopefully, you will be able to use an understanding of personality patterns to establish and maintain the trust and understanding necessary to keep people from becoming “difficult.”

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Carolyn Fields


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