Have you got a difficult person in your life? I see your head nodding – yes definitely!  We all have.

When I’m working with people and particularly managers, it usually comes up in conversation that they have some difficult members in their department, or on the management team that they find hard to work with. On closer examination we uncover what they actually mean by difficult and how it makes life so hard, not only for them but for everyone. They really would love to find a way of changing this person; it would make life so much easier they say.

In our work with people we have many images and models that we use to help them take on board different concepts. One of the most used, and valued, is the image of a very aggressive cat – you can imagine it, back arched, claws out, fangs showing – not very nice. This cat, I say to them, represents the “difficult” person in your life – not approachable, always ready to attack, criticise, thwart progress etc. So what can you do with them?

Here’s the challenge. We can’t change anybody else, we can only change ourselves. But that makes it impossible they say – I want them to change! So herein lies the clue – behaviour never happens in a vacuum.

Enter the dog (which represents you). Ah, now it’s obvious why the cat is behaving like this. Cats don’t like dogs! But hold on, this is a friendly dog, wagging its tail and ready to play. So why is the cat being so difficult?

The thing is that despite the fact that it’s a friendly dog, it is affecting the behaviour of the cat and we have to see what could change the dynamic. So I generally ask, what can the dog do to get a different response?

This is where the person looks at me with a sceptical stare and points at themselves. Me? But I’m fine. The problem is not with ME.


Well, I say, as long as we come at it from that position we are not going to make progress. The tip is, we must start with ourselves – ask “what am I doing, or not doing, that if I could change would make a big difference and be of help to this “difficult” person in their behaviour?

Now, that’s a difficult tip to take on board!