How To Turn Difficult People Into Allies

Manuela Pauer

February 01, 2021

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It's interesting how many of our problems are related to people issues, even in the workplace. I love watching the TV series "The Profit," where serial entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis invests money into faltering small businesses in exchange for an ownership stake and helps them become profitable. He identifies all the business issues, which might include missing revenue streams, expenses that are too high, untapped markets, inefficient processes etc. But most of the time, it is people issues that are holding the business back – quarreling partners, lack of trust between management and employees, owners not listening to others and just wanting to do things "their way," and the list goes on.

Have you ever encountered difficult people in your life or work who you thought of as "problems"? Most of the time, that's what happens. We see them as obstacles to getting what we want. As a result, we become focused on wanting to change what is wrong with the person. Or we feel resigned and give up.

The main reason this happens is because we see the world as happening "to" us. This problem is being hoisted onto us, and we react accordingly.

What would happen if we chose to see the world as happening "for" us instead? In "Seeing People and Circumstances as Allies Versus Obstacles," the Conscious Leadership Group invites us to choose to see problems such as your boss not agreeing with you, your co-worker ignoring you or customers being upset, as being "for" you. This means seeing these problems as learning opportunities, becoming more aware and present and letting go of your attachment to defending your ego. It also means seeing the part that you might have played in co-creating this situation.

What happens if we label someone as an ally rather than a problem? Our attitude toward them changes. As a result, the way we talk to them and how we act changes. And that may in turn affect the way the other person reacts back to us.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

1. What is it I really want in this situation with this person?
Maybe you want to feel respected. Or you want to be treated fairly. Or you want to be heard.

2. What actions or inaction can I be responsible for in this situation with this person?
Maybe you are not speaking up. Or you are responding in anger. Or you are not taking care of yourself. Or you have been avoiding telling yourself the truth about something.

Please remember: Taking responsibility does not mean blaming yourself. It just means acknowledging your role in this situation with self-compassion.

3. What can this person help me learn?
Maybe this person is helping you become more aware of your own triggers. Or maybe this will empower you to figure out how you want to react in certain situations going forward. Or this will enable you to take better care of yourself in the future.

4. What action can I now commit to in this situation to give myself what I really want?
For example, if you want to feel respected, you could respect yourself by drawing clear boundaries, seeking support that can help you, or asking for what you need.

Or if you want to be heard, you could decide to speak up more, change your approach, or get advice on how to best communicate something so you will be heard and understood.

Interestingly, some people who I had previously seen as challenging have ended up enriching my life in numerous ways by showing me support, referring clients, and connecting me to wonderful people. It's amazing how much we can affect by changing our own mindset and behavior.

Who might you turn from a difficult person to an ally?

As a Career/Leadership/Happiness Coach, Manuela works with mid-career professionals who are craving more meaning, fulfillment and joy. Through her signature "Create a Career and Life You Love" program, she helps them uncover their purpose, passions and strengths and clearly define what they want to do, so they can create a fulfilling career and life they love.

You can visit her Website at


Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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