from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

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“Until we minimize the impact of difficult people who aren’t important, we will never be able deal effectively with those who are.”

~ Bill Crawford

3 Types of Difficult People

Not surprisingly, “How do I deal with difficult people?” is a question I get a lot in my seminars and trainings. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that we have been experiencing the negative effects of people being upset or “difficult” with us almost all of our lives, and, therefore, are rather sensitive to this dynamic.

Of course, I like to help people understand this challenge based upon how the brain processes information, which means how the middle brain (the limbic system) tends to interpret anyone who is being difficult with us as “dangerous” and throw us into the part of the brain that is designed to deal with danger (the brainstem).

Therefore, in order to bring our clarity, confidence, and creativity to the process of becoming more influential with others (especially those “difficult” others) we must ensure that we are coming from the clear, confident, creative part of the brain (the neocortex, what I call the “Top of the Mind”).

To do this, we can’t be reacting to ALL difficult people as if they are dangerous, or even important. Winston Churchill had a great quote about this. He said, “You will never get to where you want to go if you stop and throw rocks at every dog that barks.”

This means that we must use the purposeful, intelligent, influential brain (the Top of the Mind) to determine whether a particular difficult person is worth the effort to deal with or try to influence, and I suggest we use “Top of the Mind” questions to make this determination.

The two questions that seem to work the best have to do with two types of difficult people, those that we don’t know and will probably never see again (bad drivers, clerks that don’t give us the service we want, etc.) and those that we do know (coworkers, some extended family members) but don’t play an important role in our lives.

With the first group, I suggest that we ask, “On a scale of 1-10, how powerful do I want that person to be in my life?” Chances are, if we are talking about someone we don’t know, the answer will be “0!” If so, then we will want to become clear about how we deal with people who are a “0.” My guess is that we don’t give them a second thought. Notice how this is different from our tendency to run the behavior of the difficult person over and over in our mind, and maybe even tell someone about what stupid thing they did.

Unfortunately, when we do this, we make them the most important person in our life because we are letting them direct our thinking and trigger stress chemicals (cortisol, for example) that are bad for our heart and health.

Similarly, when we are dealing with people we do know but aren’t important, we can use this as a criteria for how much time we spend thinking about them. We can ask, “On a scale of 1 – 10, how important do we want this person to be in our life?”

Of course, there are people in our lives that are important, and when one of these is upset with us or resistant to what we are saying, it will take a very purposeful response to engage these folks in a way that resolves the conflict or misunderstanding. This is what I teach… how to ensure that we are coming from the proactive versus the reactive brain, and how to engage others so that they shift from their resistant brain to their receptive brain so that they can truly hear and understand what is important to them, and what we are wanting them to know.

Therefore, if this sort of clarity (who is worth our efforts to understand and influence, and who isn’t) is important to you, I suggest you start with these two questions:

How powerful do I want this person to be in my life?


How important do I want this person to be in my life?

The answers should give you very good information about what to do next. And…then, if you are wanting to become more influential with the truly important people in your life, give me a call. I would love to teach you and those in your organization how to create the type of conversations that minimize misunderstanding and maximize combining what is important to everyone into a solution-focused conversation.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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