Difficult People

by Suzanne Neville

See it from their perspective

When we experience difficulty in working (or personal) relationships with other people, we often feel stuck in a particular pattern of interaction that almost always ends up in a similar outcome – probably not the one either party wants.

The key to breaking out of this circle is to recognise what is really going on and to identify new or hidden win-wins. Part of the problem is that there can also be considerable emotional baggage tied up with the relationship, so you end up not expressing yourself in the way you wanted to.

When we communicate a message to someone, we frequently only see things from our point of view; we try to get comfortable with putting our message across, but too much self focus often stops us from communicating in the most effective manner. Once we become aware of other perspectives and able to tap into the insights they offer, we find we have extra resources we can use to help us communicate far more effectively.

The following process helps you to understand what is going on by opening up different perspectives on the situation, while protecting you from negative emotions.

Perceptual positions

It is useful to look at things from three perspectives when seeking information about a relationship.

1. Our congruent self

You are fully and confidently committed to your goals. This is looking at the world as you see it. It is your own personal perspective.

2. Seen from standing in another’s shoes

Step into the other person’s shoes in your imagination and look back at yourself. This gives an insight into how the other person perceives you and what their need may be.

3. Self coach

Stand back from yourself, looking and listening to yourself and others interacting. This gives you a detached view from which you can make more objective decisions about how to communicate effectively with the other person.


Ideally, have a partner coach you through the perceptual positions exercise. This way, you will be able to concentrate in getting into the spirit of the exercise while they tell you what to do next. There’s no need to talk to them as you do this – just be aware of how you feel and the insights you are gaining as you move through the various positions. Whichever person you are being, try to hold yourself physically as that person holds themselves; adopt their facial expression; see what they see, and so on.

Perceptual positions – how to do it

Before you begin, identify three spaces on the floor, four or so feet apart, for yourself, the other person and your objective self.

  1. Identify either a relationship you would like to explore or something more specific that you would like to understand from the other person’s point of view.
  2. Stand in the self position and consider the situation from your point of view, clarifying for yourself:
  • What is important to me?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • What is my outcome?
  • What are my challenges?
  • What do I think they should do?
  • What do I think of them?
  • What do I think their outcome is?

Ask any other context-specific questions which may be of value.

  1. Next, step into the other person’s position, taking their point of view – stepping into their shoes – and consider the situation totally from their perspective, asking the same questions, as if you were the other person:
  • What’s important to me [the other person]?
  • What am I [the other person] proud of?

Use the same questions as step 2, above.

  1. Next, go to the observer position and watch the relationship between those two people, noticing the way they are communicating and how they are interacting. What individual gift could you give each of them that would ensure this relationship achieved its full potential?

Identify any new/changed/enhanced behaviours/approaches/attitudes which would be useful in improving the relationship. Check the consequences of any of the changes, making sure they are respectful of the needs and values of both parties and are appropriate to the situation.

  1. Return to the self position again and reconsider the situation from your point of view, incorporating the new ideas and thoughts you gained from taking the other person’s point of view and from having the benefit of the observer’s perspective. Re-evaluate the relationship in the light of the information gained.

See Perceptual positions for more detail.