Difficult people are a fact of life. For Melba Benson, they are
also a part of her job.
Benson regularly deals with difficult people and difficult
situations as a Texas-based mediator and coach. In fact, she
recently spoke to Lions in San Antonio on how to bridge
generational differences, so we caught up with her to get her
take on how to deal with that one person who just rubs you
the wrong way.
“Difficult people aren’t necessarily difficult because of
what they do, but it’s how we react to them,” Benson says.
“I always remind people that someone I consider difficult
may well consider me difficult.”
Benson says the first step is to automatically give everyone
the benefit of the doubt.
“There are many reasons people can come across as difficult.
One of the most common is that they are tired, frustrated
or ill,” Benson explains.
Benson suggests asking yourself how well you really
know this person and trying to understand what he or she
may be going through that has soured their attitude. If you
understand someone better, you’re less likely to have a conflict,
She also suggests not reacting to a difficult person if you
don’t have to deal with them regularly. “It doesn’t mean we
excuse their behavior. It just means we give the person the
benefit of the doubt that there may be something else
If the difficult person is someone you do see often, however,
Benson suggests several approaches to deal with him
The first is to respectfully request a behavior or attitude
change in the other person. “We look at a person and say
surely that person knows he or she is difficult, but often, they
don’t.” Benson suggests approaching the person in a calm,
private setting and asking him or her if they are aware of the behavior that is bothering you. “Think in advance how you’ll
word it,” Benson cautions. “And know specifically what you
want them to change and suggest what you will be willing to
do if they do so.”
In some cases, Benson suggests addressing the entire
team or club and setting common goals to eliminate the bad
behavior of a few. “It helps people change their attitude if
they think in terms of the whole organization and focus on
the ideals of what we’re supposed to be all about.”
Finally, Benson says the most effective method is often
to change our own behavior. “Ask yourself, what does this
person need from me? What could I do differently to make
our interactions more pleasant? Then try to focus on the person’s