Years ago I asked the legendary Coach John Wooden a question.  I said, “Coach, how would you handle a player like Dennis Rodman?”  This was during the time period when Dennis Rodman was making headlines with his flamboyant personality and controversial play for the Detroit Pistons.

When I asked coach that question, he looked me right in the eye, pointed his finger at me and said, “Young man, you handle things…you work with people.”

Mr. Rodman had a reputation for being difficult.  Coach wanted to make sure I understood that everyone has value, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

Too often we see that person who is always challenging us, as someone to be “handled”, rather than someone we work with.  Even the most difficult person in your life deserves to be treated with respect.  And, yes there will always be that person in your life who is difficult, or negative, or stubborn, or critical.

And the temptation is to respond back in a similar manner.

But that never gets you anywhere.

Treating difficult people with respect is more about you than it is them.  Your ability to respect those that don’t deserve it, or that don’t respect you speaks to your character.

You set the standard for your character and integrity by the things you say and do.  Working with someone, rather than handling them sets a high standard.

rise above the negative

There may be times when you need to cut off a difficult person.   If that’s the case, then you must do it!  However, that’s not always possible.  Most of us have difficult people in our life that we cannot cut off.  Maybe it’s a colleague at work, someone at your church or other volunteer organization…maybe it’s someone in your own family!

Here are 5 tips for respecting and working with difficult people:

  1. Stay positive.  Don’t let the negative, difficult person bring you down.  Make sure you keep your cool, and maintain self control so that you are not doing anything to escalate the situation.   When you look back, you don’t want to have anything out there that you wish you wouldn’t have said.
  2. Focus on the issue, not the drama.  It’s easy to get side-tracked and caught up in things that are not the issue, and won’t solve the problem.  You may need to constantly redirect the conversation back to the issue.  Keep focused on solving the problem.
  3. Disagree without being disagreeable.  Another great piece of wisdom from Coach Wooden.  One occasion just after my wife and I got married, we went to hear him speak, and afterwards he said, “Let me give you two some marriage advice, ‘There are times you are going to disagree, just don’t be disagreeable.'”   Great advice for every relationship!
  4. Respond, don’t react.  Think through your responses.  Don’t just react and fly off the handle by letting your emotions take control.  Reacting emotionally will only escalate the problem.
  5. Don’t take it personal.   There is a reason that person is difficult.  Chances are, that person is difficult with other people, not just you!  It’s been said that hurting people hurt people.  It’s what they do.  When they hurt others, it’s really about them and not about the person they are hurting. The same is true with difficult people.

The next time you are confronted with a difficult person, remember the foundation of a successful relationship is respect.  Treat them with respect, and remember these 5 keys as work towards a successful relationship.

“You handle things, you work with people.”
– Coach John Wooden
“Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.”
-Dave Willis—–

“If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”
-Maya Angelou


“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.”
-Benjamin Franklin

“The less people know, the more they yell.”
-Seth Godin


“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.