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Dealing with Difficult People - Part 4

Updated on March 13, 2013

I don't complain, I explain!

If I hear, "In a while, crocodile," one more time, I'll come after you.
If I hear, "In a while, crocodile," one more time, I'll come after you.

Strategies and Language to Use for Dealing with Difficult People - the Complaining Crocodile and Compromising Chameleon

This is the fourth and final (for the time being) article on Dealing with Difficult People

The Complaining Crocodile

How do you know when you are dealing with a Complaining (Whining) Crocodile? The first clue is the actual sound of their speech. Their words have a whiny, sing-song quality. Complaining Crocodiles find fault with everyone and everything. They firmly believe that misery loves company, so they readily bring their problems and complaints to you.

What kind of language do they use? Here's an example I heard recently from an employee who shall be nameless: "I cut my finger this morning putting paper in the copier, and you know how paper cuts are always the worst; they take forever to heal (yada, yada). Did I tell you what happened to my car when I was driving out of the parking lot yesterday? You won't believe what a stupid driver did (yada, yada). It must be the weather, my sinuses keep draining, my nose is clogged and my eyes never stop tearng (yada, yada)."

What is their motivation for this type of behavior? They generally feel powerless to manage their fate and a have a very strong sense of the way things should be and the way other people ought to behave. They continually complain so they, personally, can feel more perfect in an imperfect world. "It's not my responsibility. I've told you the way it should be. I've done all I can. Now it's up to you."

You know who the Complaining Crocodile reminds me of? Do you remember the comic strip, "Lil Abner," drawn by Al Capp that appeared in newspaper comic pages some years ago? There was a character named Joe Btftsplk (his name had no vowels) and a cloud was always hovering above Joe's head. The sun was shining everywhere else in Dogpatch, Lil Abner's home, but it was always raining just on Joe.

How should you deal with this difficult person? Strategies and language to use:

• Listen attentively with eye contact and head nods even when you feel impatient or defensive.

• Acknowledge what they are saying by paraphrasing. Put the complaint into your own words and indicate what you think they feel. "I guess what I hear you saying . . . and you are probably feeling pretty frustrated right now."

• Interrupt if necessary but jump in gracefully.

• Complaining Crocodiles often use the words, "always" and "never." So try to pin down their complaints to specific times, specific places, specific facts.

• When you acknowledge their complaints take care not to agree. Your agreement will confirm their belief that it's your fault and they are blameless.

• Avoid the use of ADR - Accusation, Defense, Re-accusation. They accuse. You become defensive, and re-accuse them.

• State the facts without apology. "Here is your report and here are my questions." Refrain from editorial comment like: "See? See?"

• Try to solve the problem by asking questions. "When does it occur? Who are the people involved?

• Assign tasks: "Keep track of when . . . " or "Jot down the times that . . . "

• Get it in writing. Ask the Complainer to put complaints in writing and set a time by which you expect a response.

• As a last resort, ask, "How would you like this discussion to end?" or "Where would you like us to be when we're through?"


I couldn't decide whether to be green or yellow so I compromised.
I couldn't decide whether to be green or yellow so I compromised.

The Compromising Chameleon

You will know you are dealing with a compromising chameleon when many of your questions are answered with a "Probably, Maybe, Perhaps, Possibly, Could be, I'm not sure, I suppose we could ..." and similar phrases. This type of indecisive individual finds it difficult to make a commitment or finalize a project.

You will often hear language like this from the compromiser: "I'm really still thinking about it . . . I guess I'll decide . . . but then maybe we ought to consider . . . I really need to think about it some more . . . Maybe we could . . . I suppose we should . . . “"

The behavior you will encounter most often is that of an indecisive procrastinator who stalls off any major decision-making. In fact, they avoid it entirely whenever possible. Their actions are not meant to be mean nor cruel, but they constantly take no action. They put off, postpone and procrastinate endlessly in the hope that a better choice will present itself. Or, and this is what they most desire, that the problem will simply go away.

What is their motivation for this type of behavior? They are often altruists who do not want to hurt other people. They will hint and hedge, sit on the fence, and equivocate as a compromise between being honest and not hurting anyone.

How should you deal with this difficult person? Strategies and language to use:

• Make it easy for them to talk to you. Say something like, "Could we talk about . . . ?" or "I would really like to hear your comments, your opinion on . . ." Be pleasant and patient while you await their response.

• Listen for cues and clues in their evasive language. They will use words like "generally, should, all in all, as a rule."

• Sometimes you can expedite your conversation with a compromiser by asking, "What is the conflict?” or "What do you see as the major problem?"

• You will find that you often have to literally help them to problem solve. It helps to ask them, "Would you describe the problem in detail in your own words?"

• If you learn that you are the cause or source of their indecision, acknowledge that fact and emphasize your desire to help.

• State the facts without being defensive. Propose a plan and say, "I need your help."

• If you are not the cause, give the compromiser a list of alternative solutions to a specific problem and ask him or her to rank them in order of priority.

• Emphasize the quality of your alternatives as well as the possible results.

• After a decision is made, give them your support.

It isn't easy to deal with a compromising individual and you seldom can alter their behavior, but you can change your attitude about them and listen to them in a different, more positive way.

Procrastination is a fault. It causes me nothing but sorrow. I know that I should stop it now. In fact I will for sure - tomorrow!

When dealing with difficult people, target one specific behavior to influence at a time. You can persistently influence behavior over a period of time but not all at once. And that’s the operative word in dealing with difficult people – persistence. Stay positive and you can change your behavior when dealing with them. Then they have to learn new behaviors to deal with you.

I’ve now discussed in four separate Hubs the Bellowing Bull, Sly, Sneaky Snake, Grenade Gorilla, Genuine Know-It-Owl, Bogus Know-It-Owl, Calamity Chicken Little, Pleasant Puppy, Uncommunicative Clam, Complaining Crocodile and Compromising Chameleon. See links below.

If you know of any other difficult types of people I've omitted, please comment and share your experience.

Copyright BJ Rakow 2010, 2011. All rights reserved Author, Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So

Readers of my book say it provided the information they needed to write a dynamic resume and cover letter, network effectively, interview professionally, and negotiate assertively. Includes a chapter for older workers.

Comments for Dealing with Difficult People - Part Four

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    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      How nice to meet you, Maudsey. Thank you for your very gracious comments. 'Brilliant' is one of my favorite adjectives. Do check out the other three hubs on 'Difficult People' in this series.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is just brilliant! Thank you so much, for such a helpful hub :)

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Wow! tki, your visits to my hubs just become more and more pleasurable. Don't stop. Your outstanding comments are very much appreciated and so are you, my dear. Thank you for the up all the way rating. Let me know if there is a particular self-development or humorous topic you would like me to write about. Including an interview with a departed celebrity. I've written more than 20 of those.

    • toknowinfo profile image


      7 years ago

      I am such a big fan of you! I just love every hub I have ever read of yours. You leave me with such an uplifting feeling after I read your writing. Rated up all the way!

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      You are to be commended for making it through all four of these "difficult" hubs, ishwaryaa. You are a woman of your word. Delighted you enjoyed reading these hubs and the pleasure of sharing is all mine. Especially since you described my 'fantastic knowledge.' Now that's two of us who believe that.

      Thank you for the awesome, interesting and the up. You may also be interested in these three hubs concerning assertive behavior: "Abilene Paradox," "Assertive Training Course," and "Assertive Behavior." Ciao for now.

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 

      7 years ago from Chennai, India

      Fortunately, I did not meet complaining crocodiles- your tips would help me in the future if I meet them. Compromising chameleon- yes I knew some of them. After reading the second part of this hub based on the latter, I understood the reasons for their behaviour. For the fourth time, you provided very good advice for these last two difficult groups of people.

      I enjoyed reading all four hubs. Thank u for sharing your fantastic knowledge in dealing with difficult people. Awesome & Interesting. Vote up.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      How nice to meet you, justateacher. You are spot on that some folks can have more than just one difficult trait. But with patience and knowledge of what 'payoff' they are seeking, we can usually deal with them.

      Yes, please do study these tips and let me know how your Monday goes. My money is on you, m'dear. And thank you for the Up.

    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 

      7 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      Just finished all four hubs, and I must say I read them at just the right time! I had a run in with a co-worker today...I honestly think she is a bit of ALL of the types you listed! She lied to our principal about an incident that happened so that she could get what she wanted...then laughed about it later when she knew I was upset about it...I need to re-read all of your tips before I go back to work on Monday!!

      Voted up and SHARED!

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks, Susan, for making the rounds of the 'difficult people' hubs. No thanks are necessary - it was entirely my pleasure. Especially since you found them fantastic, fun to read and educational. What a trifecta!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have read all four now and want to thank you for writing this set of hubs. They are fantastic, fun to read and very educational. I am so happy that I decided to check out some of your hubs today.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      There is no comparison, but thank you!! Hugs.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Hi, Nellieanna, yep, getting down to the nitty gritty is one of my favorite things. But I'm extremely gratified and honored that you included such wonderfully admirable verbiage in your comments.

      An inspiration? Funny, I was about to say the same about you. Love backatcha. :)

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      I just love the way you get down to the nitty gritty with an easy grace, good humor and unflappable resolve. You are an inspiration, BJ! Reading along I found some of my self in several of the types. How did you know? LOL. Love ya.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      How nice to meet you, Beverly. "Insightful" and "hilarious" in the same sentence? You ARE my kind of commenter.

      Delighted you enjoyed reading the 4 hubs in this series and look forward to more of your insightful and perceptive comments. Don't forget to check out the Genghis and Bonaparte interviews. :)

    • Beverly Wiedemann profile image

      Beverly Wiedemann 

      8 years ago

      Very insightful and absolutely hilarious. I believe that I have met at least one of each in my life time and I can also see a little of myself in a couple of them. I really enjoyed reading the series and look forward to reading more of your work !

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Amazing? Well it takes one to know one I always say. Thanks for the gracious and true of course comments - it is absolutely my pleasure.

      Into every life at some time comes a difficult person or two. Often, the hardest thing to do is to do nothing at first until you have taken some time to analyze why the difficult person is being difficult.

      If you can figure out their motivation you are better prepared to modify your behavior and reactions.

      Delighted this hub has been useful. Peace and love to you, too.

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      8 years ago from Westerville

      Aw yes part 4 of dealing with difficult people. This is a much needed review for me today. I've been trying to ignore a very difficult person that will not be ignored.

      There seems to be a place in time when one cannot ignor difficult people but deal with them. I'm so glad I recalled your very helfpul resource on the matter od difficult people and owe you a deep and sincere thanks!

      Your amazing and I'm so grateful for all you helpful tools! Peace :)

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      The best part about soliciting lists, equealla, is that particular task will keep your crocodile busy for some time. You then indicate you will discuss one issue - only one - each day and specify short time limit.

    • equealla profile image


      9 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      If my crocodile gets that question, oh boy. Believe me, she knows how to use a pen and paper. Endless lists, endless, I tell ya!

      But I have found that when asking her to consider looking at others in the same situation, with less priviledges, she will start realising the stupidity for complaining about nothing.

      Still there are some "tactics" above, which I consider as excellent advice, yet to be implemented. I will definitely keep that in mind.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      To answer your question, equealla, some crocodiles MAY be schizophrenic but MOST crocodiles have a tendency to hypochondria.

      The best advice I can offer is to restate what I have said above - Stay positive and be persistent. Over time you may be able to shape the crocodile's behavior. But don't turn your back on her.

      A direct question such as, "What would you like me to do?" can be effective.

    • equealla profile image


      9 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      Ahh, I have found the annimal, the pimple in my face at the moment. Would it be right to say the crocodile is a shizophrenic hypochondriac. I am not using these words in any demeaning way. I am dead serious.

      Unfortunately this crocodile was given me as a responsibility. She is on therapy, and it helps a little. Lately I have instinctively tried some of the advice you are giving, but there are some tips I have not used yet.

      The situation is too close to just walk away. Oh, may I receive the strength, this is going to be a rocky road!

      To add to this, my crocodile have the tendency to bite from behind!

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Hi, teresa. I'm delighted to meet you. And thanks for visiting all 4 of my "difficult people" hubs.

      Delighted that you liked them and know they can be valuable when you put them into practice. Two of the most important variables to use for success are patience and persistence.

    • teresa8go profile image


      9 years ago from Michigan, USA

      I just finished all 4 of the hubs. They're great! I'm going to have to read them again so I can better deal with difficult people.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      What a loverly comment from a loverly writer. Thank you, nicomp.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      9 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Everyone should read this series before posting on the HubPages forums.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      My pleasure, jayjay. It takes patience and perseverance to deal with difficult people. The greatest insight I received from researching and dealing with difficult people is the recognition that we all (not you) may be difficult people to someone some time.

    • jayjay40 profile image


      9 years ago from Bristol England

      Great hub, my co-worker is a Complaining Crocodile, and now I know how to deal with her, THANKS


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