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“I work well with everyone!” And other lies we tell ourselves…

We found these workshop notes tucked away from a session we attended at the 2016 American Farm Bureau Federation Convention in Orlando, Florida this winter. To be effective in our organizations, industry and every day lives, we're just going to have to deal with difficult people sometimes. Here are some leadership tips to make it work. 

Dealing with Difficult People


All of us have experience working with difficult people—there is certainly no shortage of independent, determined, occasionally stubborn personalities among farmers and ranchers.  The first thing we need to do when considering how to deal with a difficult person is to look in the mirror—sometimes the problem is us.  Those skills are often crucial to our success in agriculture but can be difficult to balance in other environments.

From the work place to the county Farm Bureau and the school board to the church council, it can be challenging to balance many different leadership and learning styles and still be an effective group.  Read on to discover some tips and suggestions to help you become an effective team player and still get along with others who aren’t.

Why are people difficult?


First, let’s identify a few of the common reasons people seem difficult to work with.

  1. They are rushed—there isn’t enough time in the day. Today, we do more in less time, we’re constantly accessible (and distracted) by cell phones and e-mail.  All of this has the ability to affect our quality of work if not managed properly.

  2. People are stressed—there are a million stressors in our world; financial problems, marital issues, losing a job, injury or illness. All of these are very real experiences and they directly influence how we interact with others.

  3. Power, Ego, Control – This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially if we know how to control it, but be prepared to deal with it.


Find common ground


When faced with a difficult person in the workplace or on your county Farm Bureau board, attempt to find common ground with that person.  Understand that words, images and sounds mean different things to different people.  The more you know about a person the better you can communicate with them.  Generally speaking, most people have a different or preferred style of communication.  Here are a few common communication styles and tips on how to best utilize their unique characteristics:

  • Promoter: Visionary, imaginative, creative, challenges others,

    • Present the big picture

    • Probe his/her plans, concepts and long-range thinking

    • Help this person realize his/her vision

    • Keep the person center stage





  • Supporter: Enthusiastic, friendly, not good with details, optimistic, tuned into rumor mill

    • Use informal open approach

    • Emphasize teamwork

    • Emphasize heavy service follow-up

    • Focus on personal relationship





  • Controller: In charge and wants results, self-confident, expects others to work as hard as he does, does not waste time.

    • Be enthusiastic and assertive, be mentally prepared to be tested

    • Get to the point, give them the big picture





  • Analyzer: Logical, consistent, good with numbers, enjoys problem solving

    • Be well organized

    • Concentrate on the evidence and present a step-by-step, logical analysis

    • Speak slowly

    • Pause frequently and ask if they have questions




When it boils over


Sometimes personalities will clash.  Having a few tips and tricks to help defuse the situation and work through it can be extremely helpful.  These suggestions are categorized by the type of personality and/or the situation you may find yourself in.

Dealing with difficult co-worker/volunteer/board member



  • Communicate with someone who gets along with person

  • Contact a trusted colleague/mentor

  • Speak privately with the difficult person

  • Take a group approach

  • Seek opportunities away from them


Dealing with the super-aggressive



  • Stand up to this person - don't flinch

  • Let them vent

  • Don't take it personally

  • Use the person's name with discretion

  • Maintain eye contact

  • Step away from the emotion

  • Use language that expresses your viewpoint without attacking

  • Allow him/ her to "save face."  Lose the battle, win the war


Dealing with the know-it-all



  • Know your facts.  Be prepared

  • Use questions to clarify his/her comments.

  • Ask him/her how they would resolve the problem; issue

  • Ask, "What do you think is the next step?"


Dealing with the boss



  • Boss's behavior is not personal

  • Remind yourself that you have been successful before you met this person.

  • Seek input from those who relate well with this individual

  • Secured expectations in writing

  • Keep your boss in your communications


Dealing with difficult people or situations is a must and it’s important to address the issue sooner rather than later.  Recognize stress levels—yours and your colleagues—and seek common ground.  Know the other person’s communication style and be respectful of it, but don’t be intimidated by the more aggressive personality types.

If applied correctly and respectfully, these tips and strategies can help make you a stronger volunteer leader and create a more effective, efficient environment for your county Farm Bureau.