Have you ever experienced the frustration of emailing an important question over to a colleague, but never getting a response? What about presenting an idea that you’re so excited about you couldn’t sleep, only to have it shot down by the co-worker who always seems to have a negative viewpoint?

If so, you’re not alone. We’ve all had to work with difficult people at some point in time.

A Juggling Principle for Dealing with Difficult People

A few weeks ago, I ran across this Seth Godin post in which he shares an interesting secret to juggling that we could learn from in these scenarios:

Throwing is more important than catching. If you’re good at throwing, the catching takes care of itself.

I think the same principle applies to the way we deal with interpersonal challenges we face. By learning how to become better “throwers,” we could eliminate a lot of the frustrations that arise from working with people who are wired differently than us. When we take the time to focus on improving our end of the deal, we’ll become a lot more effective at engaging others, motivating them to action, and ultimately moving things forward.

How to Become Better “Throwers”

How do we improve our ability to work with difficult people by becoming better throwers? Here are a few specific tactics I’ve learned:

Learn How They’re Wired and What Motivates Them

People are wired differently and motivated by different things. The DISC profile is just one example of this. Some people are more task-oriented and driven by results. Others are more people-oriented and driven by relationships.

If you’re struggling to create any traction with a difficult person, consider approaching them in a way that resonates with how they’re wired: Do they like “big ideas” and risk or are they more wired for “stability” and proven strategies? Are they more oriented to focus on the future or look back on the past? Do they need time to process an idea internally or do they enjoy externally processing with a team in real time?

When you can learn and respect the unique motivations of someone you’ve struggled to work with, you’ll likely find they’re better at “catching” the things you send their way.

Recognize and Adapt to Their Communication Preferences

One of the greatest sources of friction between team members is that we all have our own quirks about how we communicate. We’ve all sent an email and waited around for days to get a response. In order to become better at throwing, we must recognize the challenges of working with “difficult people” might be as simple as a difference in communication preferences.

Are they a digital-native and prefer everything in Google Docs or do they prefer to print off documents to review them? Do you need to set up a quick call rather than constantly badgering them over email? Do they prefer a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points of the highlights or do they require a more detailed, written out plan?

If someone isn’t responding to your requests, learn how they prefer to communicate. If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask.

Remember… Learning How to Juggle Takes Practice

Implementing these two principles while interacting with people some might find “difficult” has made a tremendous difference in our relationship. However, it’s important to remember that we don’t become excellent at it overnight. Just like juggling, it takes practice. Building rapport takes time. It also takes a lot of humility.

However, as Seth mentions in his post, if we learn how to throw better, we’ll spend far less time worrying about dealing with the flack we catch as a response.

Photo by juan pablo rodriguez on Unsplash


We’ve all struggled when dealing with difficult people at work. What if the key to success is focusing on improving our end of the communication?