Much has been written about how to deal with “difficult” people. But with all of those difficult people out there, doesn’t it make sense that it’s a least possible, that one of them is you? Consider the law of averages. Some people are difficult most of the time and some people are difficult some of the time. Some people are difficult on rare occasions, but you of course are never difficult? That just doesn’t make any sense.

So let’s assume for the moment that every once in a while you may be the difficult person in the room. How do you know it’s you, and what can you do about it? These questions came to me in a meeting recently when a contractor on a project was interfering with the team’s progress and being difficult in a variety of ways. I thought, “Does she even realize how her behavior is impacting our work?” I don’t think she did, and that’s unfortunate for her because we will not be extending her contract. But even when people have a sense that they may be the problem, they can have trouble stopping their annoying and disruptive behavior.

Here are some clues that the difficult person may be you:

  1. You are interrupting others
  2. You are intent on achieving a personal objective
  3. You believe you have more experience, wisdom, or merit than others in the room
  4. You are behaving defensively or feel the need to explain yourself
  5. You are worried where you stand or what others think of you

Back to the meeting and that difficult contractor…what could she have done differently to change the outcome? First, she could have asked for a break to collect herself and stay calm. If you find yourself in this type of situation, simply say “Hey everyone, I could really use a 10 minute break.” She could have listened to the feedback carefully and accepted some measure of responsibility. “Wow, you have some good points there. I didn’t see it that way, but I get what you’re saying.” She could have said, “How do you think we should improve the process?” and involved the group in solving the problem. She could have said the most magical words in the English language, “I’m sorry.” Not, “I’m sorry, but…” followed by casting blame and offering excuses. Simply “I’m sorry.” And then, maybe, “How I can make this better?”

Everyone is difficult sometimes. Most people will accept you if you own up and take responsibility. And don’t make it habit.