from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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“In order to deal with difficult people effectively, we must be coming from the ‘effective’ (versus the reactive) brain.”
~ Bill Crawford

6 Steps to Dealing with Difficult People – Step One

I’m sure that we all have had the experience of trying to deal with someone who is being “difficult” with little success. We are concerned (worried, frustrated) about some behavior of theirs, and rather than hear our concern as valuable information, they tend to defend the very behavior that we want them to change. Sadly, this triggers more frustration on our part, and we find ourselves caught in an ever-escalating cycle that only makes the situation worse.

I have created a six-step model for addressing this problem that I call the “Six Blocks or Obstacles to Effective Communication and Influence and the Antidote to Each.” The first block may be our state of mind. In other words, in order to be effective with people who are being difficult, we must first ensure that we are not engaging them in a way that only makes them more resistant.

In my “Life from the Top of the Mind” system, I use brain science to both understand the problem and offer a solution, which means that the first step in this model is to ensure that we are coming from the neocortex, or the upper 80% of our brain. You see, this upper brain (what I call “The Top of the Mind”) is the purposeful, intelligent, creative brain. This means that in order for us to draw on our clarity, confidence, and creativity, we must be able to go into the conversation in the Top of the Mind and be able to stay there while they are being difficult!

Of course, this is easier said than done, because for as long as we have been on the planet, we have been reacting to difficult people by becoming stressed, frustrated, angry, and/or worried. We all have some significant neural pathways that will take us to the lower reactive brain (the brainstem) when faced with a difficult person, and this will continue to limit our effectiveness unless we take charge of the process.

Notice that I’m speaking of us taking charge of the way our brain is interpreting the situation and the qualities and characteristics that we are bringing to the interaction first before we try to influence them. There is new science in this area that is called “interpersonal neurobiology” which speaks to how one brain can influence another. This means that if we are not careful (full of care versus worried), their brainstem (which is where their difficult behavior is coming from) will throw us into our brainstem, and a “cycle of conflict” will be created.

In other words, if we go into a conversation with one of these people worried, stressed, or frustrated… or, if we get triggered in the middle of the interaction, not only will our lower brain response block our ability to access our clarity, confidence, and creativity, they will interpret our negative reaction as criticism, and become even more difficult.

Therefore, the first step in my six-step model is to ensure that we are taking 100% responsibility for our “ability to respond.” Or, put another way, that we are going into the conversation centered and balanced, much like an Aikido master, and ensuring that we stay this way, regardless of what they do or say. This is certainly easier said than done due to our old habits, and the neural pathways that have been formed in the past. However, it is a crucial, first step to becoming more effective with people like this.

Of course, it is only the first step, which means that, while necessary, it isn’t sufficient to producing change. This is why I have created my six-step model which is designed to move the conversation along in a way that does allow us to become more influential in the relationship. Next week, I will describe “step two” of this process, and I invite your questions or concerns as we learn more and more about the neuroscience of communication and influence.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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