Growing up in an Italian-American household meant you had to watch The Godfather Parts I and II every time they came on television. My father, John Gambardella, couldn't wait for Marlin Brando, a.k.a. Vito Corleone, to utter his infamous line: "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."
Like it or not, dealing and communicating with difficult people comes with being a leader. Whether it's the business partner who wants too much or the employee who alienates his or her co-workers--learning to win an unfair fight is a critical skill set we all must obtain.
1. Deal with your own ego first.
Often, the fight is a battle with our own egos. Many times, as entrepreneurs, we feel we are the best, most competent person to get the job done, which makes us more likely to criticize others.
Keynote speaker and best-selling author Garrison Wynn says this need to condemn others is a major downfall of most leaders.
"If you criticize others' ideas, they will almost never use yours, no matter how good they are," said Wynn. "Entrepreneurs must decide whether they want to be right or be successful. The key is to practice ego-management."
2. Make an agreement to change behavior.
Most executives go into confrontations hoping to teach people about the grave error of their ways.
"The problem of course is our righteousness has very little influence in the eyes of the difficult person," says Wynn. Instead, Wynn recommends using this approach:
"I've been considering some of the problems we've been having and I think some of it is me. If I can get you to stop <insert the bad behavior here>, I will let you tell me how I can manage you better. Sound good?"
This works for a few reasons. One, the person's ego won't be bruised, as it alleviates them from being accountable. Two, this method levels the playing field and makes difficult people feel more powerful, thereby making them more compliant. "People want to be validated and feel heard," says Wynn.
"While this works almost every time--in my experience--most executives won't use this approach because they don't want to take the responsibility for other people's shortcomings. If you can get past it, you can master the worst type of personalities brilliantly."
3. Provide the positive validation they seek.
While it may seem counterintuitive to take responsibility away from difficult people and put the onus on ourselves, Wynn's theory is backed by research. According to a 2015 survey done by Psychology Today, 55 percent of people feel their self-worth is, more often than not, tied to what other people think of them.
And, as Oprah Winfrey famously said in a commencement speech at Harvard University, "I've talked to nearly 30,000 people, and all 30,000 had one thing in common--they all wanted validation...They want to know, do you hear me? Do you see me? Does what I say mean anything to you?"
To motivate people to change, validate their existing knowledge and demonstrate how it matches up with the new behavior you want them to embrace.
Peter Shankman, a serial entrepreneur, speaker and founder of Shankminds.com, gave me some sage advice for handling negative people. He said an old skydiving instructor told him, "If you can't change the people around--change the people around you."
"People are not out to screw you over," said Shankman. "They are just out to better themselves. Once you understand that, it makes other people's bad behavior more palatable."
Recognizing insecurities, in yourself and in others, is a skill developed over time. It takes patience, understanding and a little creative problem solving. Master it, and you will hold all the secrets for dealing with difficult people.