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We’ve all got them. That one person or that group of people that we find difficult. [1]

I’ve written before about how people have a “right thing” and how taking others’ perspectives can help you understand motives.

What if we were to take it one step further?

Maintaining a curious mindset (check the voice in your head for tone) try to understand what is going on around the person with whom you are interacting.

Here are some questions that might help you do that (I am going to use a fictitious protagonist named Morgan here): [2]

  • Who is Morgan’s boss or manager? What pressures are they under that Morgan might be picking up on? How could that be informing Morgan’s behaviour or thinking?
  • What policies, procedures or legislation is Morgan using to inform his decision making? What effect might that be having on him?
  • Has Morgan dealt with a similar experience to the one we are discussing today? What happened last time? How is that informing Morgan’s thinking and behaviour?
  • What other influences are there on Morgan at the moment that could be impacting our conversation?

These questions are not exhaustive, but they do help you see some of the other forces of the system at play. As you take a step back and view different aspects of the system, test out your questions.

I encourage you to take a broader view of your difficult conversations, understand what else might be happening, and how that could be playing out in your interactions.


[1] Lately, I have moved away from the concept of “difficult people” to “people I find difficult.  It puts the onus back on me to develop my empathy and understand others better.

[2] You don’t have to ask these questions out loud. Asking the question about your “Morgan” primes you to see events and behaviours to help you answer the questions. Of course, nothing is stopping you from asking the questions out loud either.