How to Help Difficult People
Difficult people. At least a few can be found in most businesses, church families and blood families. How can these people be helped? Are there Bible verses you can share with them? Absolutely!
Proverbs is loaded with wisdom in this regard, and most of us remember Jesus stating that the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Will the difficult person always be eager for you to quote Scripture? Hopefully so, but in the meantime, please consider the following idea: One of the best ways to help the person you perceive to be difficult is to become serious about elevating your own people skills!
Dale Carnegie referred to the arena of people skills as human engineering. Following Jesus requires us to help people – and to effectively help them, we must get along with them and do all that we can to better understand them and relate to them. If your people skills happen to be lacking, it is not entirely your fault, but it is your responsibility to get better!
Why would I say it’s not entirely your fault? My experience, both as a student and as a university administrator, has been that formal education offers little and certainly doesn’t require much related to human engineering – and that’s unfortunate. It might surprise you to learn that research conducted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching concluded that “even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering – to personality and the ability to lead people.”
Yes, I know what you might be thinking. Life is obviously about more than money, but to dismiss Carnegie because he mentions money is to miss an important point.
While it would be nice for formal education to include this training, the key is to take responsibility for your own improvement. You need a personal growth plan, and the good news is that great options are available!
Leaders should be readers, and I hope you read broadly because almost all of us are leading someone. Obviously, reading your Bible is the most important thing you can do. In addition, here are a few resources that will bless you in your study of human engineering:
- “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This book has been around for close to 100 years, and it will still bless your life. It provides a solid foundation for personal growth by making the case that elevating your people skills matters.
- “Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People” by Vanessa Van Edwards. From making the right kind of first impression, to being likable, to being a better encourager and leader, crucial lessons can be learned from this book, and you’ll find yourself reading through it multiple times.
- “The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation: How Knowing Ourselves Can Make Us More Like Jesus” by AJ Sherrill and Chuck DeGroat. A variety of books have been written on the Enneagram, and here’s why you need to read one of them. Sometimes the person you perceive to be difficult isn’t actually difficult at all. You are experiencing tension with that person because she doesn’t process life the same way you do. Along with better understanding yourself, acquiring a better understanding of the various ways people are “wired” can eliminate a world of perceived difficulty!
- “Sticking Points: How to Get 5 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart” by Haydn Shaw and Stephen M. R. Covey. How many of the difficult people you’ve had to deal with are of a different generation than yours? When you begin to understand what people of various generations value, you are far less likely to see them as difficult.
Whether you prefer reading, podcast listening or watching instructional YouTube videos, the key is to avail yourself of resources that will help you understand people, interact well with them and better relate to them, all while being a more likable person yourself.
Jere’s one more important thing. As you become a serious student of human engineering, an unexpected and surprising truth might surface. It might become clear that in many cases YOU are the difficult person in the relationship!
Think about it. We all know the person who constantly job hops or church hops. It seems he is always in search of the perfect company or the perfect church family and is disillusioned when he consistently find neither. As painful as it might be, a trip to the mirror of self-examination is probably what this always-on-the-move person needs most. He desperately needs a personal growth plan.
Learn from someone you know who has a long track record of stability both in a career and as part of a church. Ask if you can buy him or her lunch, then grab a pen and paper and begin asking questions. It is my belief that long-term success in a single organization is usually more about the people skills of the person who sticks around than it is about having found the perfect organization to be a part of.
Finally, be sure to have some people in your life who have your permission to keep your mirror clean. We all have blind spots, and we all need people who will help us see them with no agenda other than wanting what’s best for us. If you haven’t given anyone in your circle permission to mess around in your business, you really should do so sooner rather than later.
Are there always going to be some difficult people to deal with? Absolutely! The good news is that as you develop and strengthen your people skills, all your relationships with people will improve.
Philip Goad has been serving as the minister at North Highlands Church of Christ in Russellville since March 2020.