CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 26, 15th September 2003


  1. Editorial: Decisions are everything
  2. Coaching notes: Difficult People – or are they?

1.     Editorial: Decisions are everythingRichard Winfield

Richard Winfield

On the face of it, Brefi Group provides a wide range of services. However, the essence of what we do is to help people change the way they make decisions. Everything you or I do is a result of a decision at some level – and much of our work involves helping clients make better decisions and learn how to make better decisions for themselves in the future.

Decisions can be logical; they can be affected by emotional forces; or they can take place at a muscular level.

Different approaches have different names, and I thought it might be useful to suggest how they fit.

Coaching addresses decision-making at a logical level, whilst taking full account of emotions – emotions can be the barriers to effectiveness or the motivator for success. Coaching involves exploring perceptions of the context in which decisions are made; it tends to focus on the present and the future.

Sometimes emotions interfere to such an extent that an optimal decision, and action to implement it, is prevented. In this case, perhaps, it is necessary to deal with experiences in the past and 'therapy' is relevant.

Inner Game processes, particularly when applied in sport, help the body to make better muscular decisions. This approach helps the body learn for itself by measuring feedback and alerting the muscles to finer distinctions.

And what is mentoring? Very similar in process to coaching, it includes a greater level of personal involvement and transfer of personal experience.

In fact they are all approaches to helping improve the decision-making process. The greater the range of skills that we have, the more effective we are likely to be with our clients. And this includes identifying the nature of the issue and the most appropriate approach to its solution. Sometimes, however, it will require appointment of a specialist.

Lynne Kerry of Vievolve suggests below that we can learn to respond differently to behaviours we might previously have considered unacceptable. She suggests a strategy for making better decisions when delaing with 'Difficult People'. I am delighted to be able to publish a papers from colleagues outside Brefi Group. We have more than 5,600 subscribers and are keen to receive articles that can help them improve their personal or professional performance.



Between now and the end of the year, many organisations will be reviewing their strategy and business plans, and preparing budgets for the next financial year.

Contact Brefi Group to learn how a facilitator can help you get far more value out of an awayday, corporate retreat or strategy meeting.

2.     Coaching notes: Difficult People – or are they?
        Lynne Kerry, Vievolve Lynne Kerry

Could it be that there are no such things as difficult people?

I?m not proposing that it?s possible to like everyone all the time, or to accept or like what they are doing. Nor am I suggesting that we can make others change their behaviour. I am suggesting that by gaining a deeper understanding of human differences, values, beliefs and motivations, it is possible to change your response to what you might previously have considered unacceptable behaviour in order to improve client or staff relationships. In practical terms, it makes good business sense, and has applications in areas such as sales, negotiations, coaching and team building.

In what follows, we?ll be exploring three key areas:

  • The different thinking styles which may lie beneath apparent ?difficult? behaviour, and how to recognise them.
  • Some alternative ways of thinking about difficult people, which can enable you to break the vicious circle which can may result, and create a different response for yourself.
  • An example of how this might be manifest in everyday business situations.

I. Thinking styles

You will probably be familiar with statements like:

?I want them to agree to ?x? but they won?t?
?He doesn?t listen to me, he?s being difficult?
?They should meet me halfway, it?s not fair!?
?I explain over and over again what I want, but it never gets done?

It's human nature to assume that because something makes sense to me, it makes sense to everyone else too. The fact is that we all have different ways of experiencing the situations with which we are faced, different ways of storing and processing information. This uniqueness becomes evident through the language we use to describe what we are experiencing and what we notice in our world. These so-called ?filters in language? may vary according to the situation, context or even mood in which we find ourselves. However, the ability to communicate in a similar way helps to build rapport. If you are using the same filters in conversation, it will help you first establish and then maintain rapport. If the filters that you use are different from the ones used by others, you may experience discord and frustration.

The awareness to recognise the filters that you and others use is a first step. Developing your flexibility in the ways you use the filters gives you choice ? choices about the response you may elicit in others.

There must be hundreds of filters that we use everyday to translate experience into perception but recognising the following three examples can help us respond to so-called ?difficult? people.

Relationship Filter

This first filter refers to how you sort for the relationship between things. For example, if I said to you "What is the relationship between the job you were doing a year ago and the job you're doing now?" how would you answer? Some might talk about the similarities that exist and others might comment on how different it is. These are the two ends of this continuum. You will also identify other cases where someone might say "Well, a lot of it is quite similar - the hours, the types of customers, the range of products I'm selling ... but I am travelling more today." This would be an example of 'mainly similarity with some difference'.

Chunk size (information) filter

Another very easy pattern to identify is in someone's preference for the 'chunk size' of information they like to receive or process at any one time. You might reflect on the different ways that people look at and describe even something as simple as the room within which they are sitting. Do you prefer conceptual information, detailed data or some combination of both?

Reference filter

Another pattern that has significance in coaching and feedback situations is the Reference filter. One way of determining this pattern is in answer to a question such as " How do you know you've done a good job?" Answers here may range from "I just know" (strongly internal) through to "When someone tells me" (externally referenced). Someone who is very strongly internally referenced may not be aware of the importance that positive strokes may play in someone else's performance. Conversely someone who is very externally referenced may generate a lot of stress for themselves because they may not get the feedback they crave, or indeed, may be attempting to meet several different sets of criteria from different people.

II. Vicious or virtuous circle?

A lack of appreciation or recognition of differences in thinking styles can often result in frustration, misunderstanding, time-wasting (as a result of having to do things two or three times instead of once), and even outright conflict. Therefore, through an understanding of the following model, you will have a deeper appreciation of the way in which our own (or others') thinking has a direct influence on the way we behave, and the results (or feedback) we get.

If you can imagine a circle. perhaps starting with 'Thinking', moving round to 'Emotional State', then on to 'Behaviour', then 'Feedback' (both external and internal) and finally back to 'Thinking' again. If you want to change the results you are getting, either for yourself or in relation to someone else, it is important to understand how this cycle is operating, and where and how to intervene in order to influence the outcome more positively. It is particularly interesting to note that you can intervene anywhere in this cycle, depending on your intention and the other person?s current situation.

For example, in relation to another party, the following questions and thoughts might be useful:

  • What would have to be in their thinking for this behaviour to be normal and acceptable to them?
  • What value set or belief system are they likely to be operating from?
  • If you go into ?second position? with them and experience the situation through their eyes, perceptions and feelings, what insights do you get, and what might you do differently as a result of this?
  • Can you effectively match, pace and lead their emotional state to influence their behaviour?

From your own perspective, it may be useful to utilise the NLP presuppositions thinking in order to change your internal response and therefore external behaviour. It is important to remember that these presuppositions, or empowering beliefs are not necessarily absolute truth, but acting ?as if? they are true in a particular context can create more choice of behaviour and flexibility of thinking in order to create a different result for both parties.

In particular, the following may be useful to bear in mind in ?difficult? situations:

  • Everyone has their own unique map or model of the world and no one map is any more 'real' or valid than another.
  • The meaning of your communication is the response you get. If you?re not getting the response you want, do something different.
  • Whatever quality or characteristic I experience in others, is also in some way representative of what is going on in me.
  • Behind every behaviour there is an unconscious positive intention towards me.

You cannot make the other person change ? and indeed it is questionable whether you have any right to do so ? but you can change what you do and how you are thinking. After all?

?The person with the most flexibility of thinking and behaviour is most likely to influence the situation, if they choose?

III. A common business scenario

One of the most serious potential consequences of labelling people as ?difficult? is how it may relate to your overall relationship with them, and in particular to their perceived competence, growth and development.

For example, a report in the well-respected Harvard Business Review describes something called the ?Set up to Fail Syndrome?. This relates the theory that some managers may unwittingly be contributing to, or even causing poor performance or difficult behaviour in staff, often with the best of intentions. The scenario goes something like this:

  • The employee loses a client unexpectedly, misses a target or deadline, submits a sub-standard report, or does something else which seems out of character. To compound this, it may also be that the manager and employee have never established a good relationship.
  • Then ? the manager begins to worry that the employee?s performance is not up to scratch
  • So ? the manager begins to focus more time and attention on the employee. He/she may ask to see documentation which they would not have previously, or check decisions they have made. They may keep a closer eye on how the employee performs at meetings and critiques any comments or suggestions they may put forward. The manager?s intention is to boost performance and prevent errors ? but
  • The employee interprets the manager?s behaviour as a lack of trust and confidence in their abilities. They may begin to doubt their own thinking and lose motivation ? after all the boss will check it anyway, or just do it themselves!
  • Then ? the manager interprets this withdrawal as proof or poor performance and lack of co-operation. So, they increase the pressure and level of supervision, double-check everything.
  • If this cycle continues, the employee may just give up ? they have no motivation to make any contribution to the business. Even though the manager is spending a lot of time with the employee, their relationship is far from ideal or downright hostile. Ultimately the employee may leave the organisation.

These perceptions and assumptions, whilst they remain unchallenged or misunderstood, create two ?vicious? circles of thinking, state, behaviour and feedback. They create a self-fulfilling prophecy, even though the manager is well-intentioned.

The key to changing the perception of a 'difficult' behaviour of a 'difficult' person is to break the cycle that sustains it.

So, are they really difficult or just different, and is it worth it to you to find out?


Lynne Kerry is Managing Partner of the NLP Business Consultancy Vievolve, and has worked internationally as a trainer, facilitator and coach for nearly 20 years. She is a Master Practitioner and Certified Trainer of NLP.

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We hope you enjoyed this issue of CorporateCoach. If you would like to learn more about how we can work together, then please contact me, Richard Winfield