NEW ORLEANS, LA — Dan DeSalvo is out to set a personal record for the most speaking engagements in one year — 127. He had time to stop long enough in New Orleans to put another notch in his belt by talking with The Unified Group members about “How to Handle Difficult People.” DeSalvo said the keys to handling difficult people start with turning difficult situations into positive outcomes and creating strategies for resolving conflicts.

“Seventy-five percent of dealing with difficult people and situations is understanding,” DeSalvo said. “Twenty-five percent of dealing with difficult people is skill and technique.”

He introduced his subject by citing the five dangerous misconceptions about communication.

1. Don’t assume that people listen when you are speaking to them. “People have their own needs and wants,” DeSalvo said.

2. Just because people say they are paying attention doesn’t mean they are.

3. When someone says, “I understand,” he or she may not, according to DeSalvo. “We often fall prey to miscommunication,” he said.

4. Don’t assume that saying something over again ensures that your listeners will understand it.

5. Don’t conclude that saying something over again loudly will be even more effective than just saying it over and over.

DeSalvo said one of the first steps in handling a difficult person is to identify the type of person you are dealing with. He listed the top 10 types and explained how to deal with them.


The Bull:Avoid a battle, stand up for yourself, and give them time to blow off steam. “When the bull sees that his tactics are intimidating, he will go in for the kill,” DeSalvo said.

The Fox: Bring reality into the discussion and force them to choose between a conversation and a real fight. “You have to confront the fox with the facts,” he said.

The Time Bomb: Show your sincerity and your desire to talk. Be patient. “They are basically quiet and sullen, then they explode,” DeSalvo said. “Don’t listen to what they say. Watch what they do.”

The Whiner: Listen closely and let them feel important, but don’t agree. “Let them get it all out without agreeing. Put them into problem solving.”

The Stone Wall: Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Set time limits to silence, and be persistent. “They are passively aggressive,” DeSalvo said. “Ask them open-ended questions that allow them to come up with their own ideas.”

The Ultra-Agreeable: Make honesty nonthreatening and be on the lookout for unrealistic commitments. “They want people to like and accept them, but you also want them to balance out and think analytically.”

The Bump-On-A-Log: State your perception and don’t get caught in their negativism. “Take the non-aggressive approach. Don’t force your will on them,” DeSalvo suggested. “It is all about change management.”

The Know-It-All: Listen attentively and question them without antagonizing. “They know they are right,” he stated. “They are pompous and condescending. Offer an alternate perspective for them to consider.”

The Fake Know-It-All: State the facts and give them the opportunity to save face. “They want you to respect them, but they don’t want to do the homework,” DeSalvo said. “Allow them to save face but flush out the reality.”

The Procrastinator: Help them to be direct and develop problem-solving skills. “Every one of us can procrastinate for all different reasons,” he said. “Explain to them the consequences of their inaction.”

DeSalvo listed three general rules of thumb for handling any type of difficult person:

1. Be a better listener.

2. Don’t be judgmental of someone with opposite traits.

3. Think first, then act.

He concluded his presentation by stating, “A champion focuses on what is right, not what is wrong. And they reflect on what people say and how they feel.”

Publication date: 12/16/2002