Ask Dr. Brinkman

‘Difficult People’ Category

Why Do People Act the Way They Do

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Dr. Rick Brinkman explains why people act the way they do and what you can do about it, to employees of ITV London, UK at their December Lunch & Learn.


The Art of the Apology

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Polish is the 25th Language of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

I am proud to announce that our book Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst (Brinkman & Kirschner, McGraw-Hill 2004, 2003, 2012) is now in it’s 25th language.

The companion book which we affectionately call “the Cliff Notes” version: 24 Lessons for Managers: Dealing with Difficult People has also come out in Polish.














“Dealing with People You Can’t Stand” book Cited as a Resource in Forbes

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Link to article here

Dr. Rick on Patricia Terrel Show: Conscious Communication to Bring Out the Best in People, Part 1

Monday, August 18th, 2014



1.       What is Conscious Communication?
2.       What are the top ten difficult behaviors plus 3?
3.       The behaviors are not “personality typing”
4.       Strategies for specific behaviors. The “Whining” Example
5.       Can we really change someone’s behavior?
6.       The four choices for dealing with the difficult people
7.       Addressed a question involving a condescending boss (Sniper)
8.       Closing remarks about options, zillions of opportunities to practice each day, etc.

How to Deal with “High Maintenance Co-Workers” in Your Law Firm

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Listen to this 20 minute podcast where we specifically touch on Know-it-All behavior and how to open people’s mind to the ideas of others.


Friday, December 20th, 2013

How to deal with Meddling from the Enhanced eBook “Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst,” now at the iTunes bookstore.

Give it as a gift for that person with an iPad. The iTunes bookstore has now added the ability to buy a book as a gift for a person.

In their Educating Through Entertainment style, doctors Brinkman & Kirschner have enhanced their international bestselling book (over 2 million copies in 24 languages) with:

7 comic book style presentations embedded with audio that depict different scenarios illustrating the strategies for difficult behaviors.

16 entertaining and engaging videos showing how to resolve conflict stations with demonstrated positive and negative strategies.

Link to the Lens of Understanding Self-Assessment you can complete to evaluate your relationships with people in your life.

Access to a 27-minute audio of the authors explaining how to change your attitude and reactions so you can use the tools in the book even more effectively.

Whether you’re dealing with a coworker trying to take credit for your work, a distant family member who knows no personal bounds, a Know-it-All, a Sniper, a Whiner, Martyr or other difficult person, this book gives you the tools for bringing out the best in people at their worst.

The Art of the Apology

Monday, December 16th, 2013

With the help of his two Cats, Neelix and Leela Dr. Rick will show you how to avoid the #1 mistake made when apologizing and a 3 step strategy to have everyone let go of the past and move forward.

The Rules of Non-Engagement for Dealing with Relatives

Sunday, December 15th, 2013


When it comes to attending family events, you always have a choice:

1. Go
2. Go and suffer
3. Don’t go

(You’ve already examined these choices in the Pre-Obligation Checklist. See previous posts.)  If you decide to go, and you choose not to suffer, then you have two more choices:

4. Go with a different attitude
5. Go with a different attitude and behavior

To avail yourself of one or both of these two choices, we offer you the Four Rules of Non-Engagement:

1. Decide in Advance
If you wait to make the decision about responding to negative or controlling comments until you’ve begun your visit, events may overtake you. Instead, make a conscious choice before you arrive about the kind of experience you’re going to have when you get there.

But it isn’t enough to make the choice not to have problems with a predictably argumentative relative. You also want to make a conscious choice about what topics to steer clear of, and what you will do if those topics come up. Consider what Carissa told us:

My mother-in-law has strong opinions about everything. Her argumentative nature is so strong that if I responded to the troubling things she said, just for the sake of discussion, I was guaranteed an argument, and more likely an attack, which almost always led to a fight with my husband in the car on the way back home after visiting her! But I now realize that I actually have a say over what ultimately gets discussed, because I can avoid the problematic topics when they come up. If I don’t take the bait, the topic eventually goes away, and usually sooner than later. Now, on the way to her place, before I talk with her, I do a little talking to myself. I tell myself exactly what I’m willing to talk about and what I’m not willing to talk about no matter what, and I stick to it. 

2. Plan for Sore Subjects

Joseane told us:

My husband’s former mother-in-law is a sore subject with my in-laws.  Mention Maggie to either of them and they spin off in anger. Next thing I know, she’s telling the same story for the gazillionth time about how inconsiderate she was, how mean she was, how absolutely awful she was.

For the longest time I felt really bad for her. I used to try and convince her that she should live and let live, that this former problem person in her life is now gone and she should be grateful she doesn’t have to deal with her anymore and let it go, but my efforts never worked and made it worse. Now when she starts talking angrily about Maggie, I just nod my head, wait till she’s done, and then change the subject to anything else! And if she asks me, “What do you think?” I know she isn’t really wanting my opinion, so I say, “Well, you know what’s best for you.” And the funny thing is, when I do that she tells my husband, “I’m crazy about that girl. She is so wise.”

You have other options too. You can speak to their intent instead of getting caught up in the content of what they’re saying. If your relative says, “You should dress up more,” you can say, “Thank you for caring about my appearance.”

If your parent asks you, their adult child, whether you’re brushing your teeth, you can reply, “Thanks for caring about my hygiene.”

By refusing to get caught up in the content of what they’ve said, you have time to breath, gather your wits, and create a cushion of non-engagement around yourself.


3. Keep Your Perspective

You are more resourceful with perspective than without it, and you feel better too! One way to keep your perspective is to find entertainment value in difficult behavior.

Ben told us:

“I find it incredibly amusing when people get weird. Sometimes I even play circus music in the back of my mind. It sort of animates their behavior, turns them into a caricature of themselves, and makes them look to me like a cartoon! Then my biggest challenge is not letting them see how hard I’m laughing inside.”

Mina told us:

“I tell myself that it beats being in a war zone, or any other horrible thing I can imagine.”

4. Use Reminders

Sometimes it’s useful to have a reminder system for your intentions. Garth told us:

Whenever we find ourselves obligated to attend some kind of family function, I’ve developed the habit of reminding myself that “all things will pass.” I get a small red stick-on dot that I put on my watch to mark the time we’ve leaving. It’s a perfect stealth reminder that helps me keep my perspective. As we are walking in the door, I look at the red dot and remind myself of the end point. If things start to heat up, I just grin and think, “All things will pass” again. 

To Summarize:

Rules of Non-Engagement

1. Decide in Advance
2. Plan for Sore Subjects
3. Keep Your Perspective
4. Use Reminders


Friday, December 13th, 2013

Announcing the Online Class: Conscious Communication University

Learn how to become a masterful communicator and handle difficult behaviors like, whining, negativity, attacks, tantrums, withdrawal and more.

With entertaining video skits, presentations and interaction you will transform your relationships.

People are enrolled as communication partners, so you get to choose someone for free to take the course with you. Now through the end of the year it is 50% off the two for one price. Coupon Code CCU50

For more info watch the video below and to register please visit:


Thursday, December 12th, 2013

(from Dealing with Relatives, Brinkman & Kirschner, McGraw-Hill)

There are three “Magic Numbers” to know when it comes to dealing with your relatives: Geography, Frequency, and Time.

These numbers can mean the difference between having a good time that strengthens your family relationships, and having an awful time that damages relationships to the detriment of family.

The purpose of knowing your numbers is to keep your associations with each other positive. Ignoring them can be hazardous to your relationships.

Do you live close to your relatives, or far away? How close? How far? From the information we’ve gathered, geography is the #1 coping strategy for relatives who that are difficult to deal with.

You’ve heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and familiarity breeds contempt. How often do you see your relatives?

Geography of course can be one of the variables that influences frequency. The greater the distance, the less the frequency is possible. The less the distance, the more frequent the possible contact time. But regardless of geography, and thanks to the technology of the digital age, you still have to know your magic number on frequency.

In every relationship, there is an optimum number of times, whether in a week, a month, or a year, where you and your relative can both enjoy the relationship. And there is probably a number that represents too much contact, too often.

You want to find the sweet spot that’s just right for both of you. And in this age of multiple methods of communication find the form or combination of forms works best.


Time flies when you’re having fun, and the opposite is also true. Too much time with relatives and some people start getting a little crazy. Not enough time together, other people get crazy. How much time do you spend with your relatives when you get together with them whether it’s for a casual dinner, or a formal family event?

What is the magic number of days, hours, and minutes that you can successfully enjoy the relationship before it moves into the Danger Zone?

Though this magic number is important for everyone to know, it is particularly important when there are great geographic distances involved. Because of the expense and logistics involved, there may be a tendency to spend more time together than is optimal for anyone.

To make matters more difficult, when you’re the one who is visiting relatives, you may not have much private space in which to spend some of your time. And when you’re around, your relatives may find it hard to get away too!

The result is often that feeling of being “‘stuck’” with the relatives instead of enjoying the family. There is probably an optimum amount of time for you to enjoy a family visit. Once you cross that magic number of Time, it only takes one of you to drag both of you into the Danger Zone.

That’s why knowing your magic numbers of Geography, Frequency and Time can help you to enjoy the relationship and contribute to the future of it by keeping your associations positive.

Dealing with Relatives – Guilt and the Obligation Checklist

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

(from Dealing with Relatives, Brinkman & Kirschner, McGraw-Hill)

To help you go from “have to” to “don’t have to” to “don’t want to” or “really want to!” we offer you a pre-obligation checklist. While you don’t have to use it, you may want to give it a try.

Pre-Obligation Checklist

In order to bring conflicts to the surface and clarify your options, answer the following questions as honestly and openly as possible.

State the Nature of the Relative Emergency

What is the event to which you feel obligated to attend?
Where and when does this event take place?
What else do you have going on at that time?
Who is sponsoring it?
Who else is likely to attend?
What is involved in attending the event? Time? Money? Energy? How much?
What is the nature of your obligation to attend? Is it duty, conscience, a promise or commitment? Guilt? Fear?<endUL>

Acknowledge Your Feelings

How do you feel about attending the event?
How do you feel about feeling that way?
How would you like to feel regarding the event?
Do you feel any pressure to participate? Where is it coming from?

Worst Case Scenario

Is the timing of this event in conflict with the timing of some other event?
Is the expense of attending this event in conflict with some other expense?
What is the worst possible outcome if you don’t fulfill this obligation?
What is the worst possible outcome if you do fulfill this obligation?

Best Case Scenario

What is the best possible outcome of attending this event?
What is the best possible outcome of not attending this event?
What might you gain by attending the event?
What might you gain by not attending it?
What other options do you have regarding this event?

Count the Cost
Remember, whenever you say “Yes” to doing something, you’re saying “No” to doing something else.

What do you lose by fulfilling the obligation?
What would you not get to do that is more important to you?
What do you lose by not fulfilling the obligation?
What would you not get to do that is more important to you?

Make Your Best Choice
There’s no such thing as a perfect decision, but there is such a thing as your best decision.

Which of your options will cost you the least or gain you the most?
What do you choose to do?

Dealing with Relatives – The Five Choices

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013


(from Dealing with Relatives, Brinkman & Kirschner, McGraw-Hill)

Everyone has family that is sometimes difficult to deal with. But if you’ve had it with the criticism and rudeness, if you’re fed up with interference, tired of taking orders, unwilling to be taken advantage of, or frustrated with egotism,don’t despair. Remember, you always have a choice. In fact, you have five choices:

1. Suffer and complain.
If you want things to remain the same, and you’re satisfied to be right about what’s wrong while doing nothing about it, this is your best choice. It’s a complete waste of time, but it’s your time to waste!

2. Go away.
If you won’t make the effort to work it out, or you made the effort and got nowhere, you can create the boundary of time and distance to protect your-self from the pain. This a very common choice. In our research we found geography to be the #1 coping strategy.

But before you walk away,consider your other choices..

3. Accept them the way they are.
Even if they never change at all, you can change the way you see them, listen to them, and how you feel around them. A change of attitude can set you free from negative reactions to problem behaviors.

In our interviews we found that when people healed a relationship so it was no longer problematic, attitude was either the prime factor or a supporting factor that allowed people to change their own behavior and have a positive effect on their relative.

4. Love yourself when they’re around.
Overcoming negative and mixed messages from others requires a more loving relationship with yourself. When you give yourself the love and acceptance that you can’t get from them, you stop being needy and change the dynamic of the relationship.

5. Exercise your influence.
Just as some people bring out the best in you, and some people bring out the worst, you have this same ability with others. There is a behavioral balance in relationships, and it can be shifted with intentional behavior. When you shift what you’re doing, your relative will have to shift what he or she is doing too. And suddenly you have options for bringing out the best in relatives . . . even at their worst!

In upcoming posts we will examine some of these behavioral choices to effect others.

Dealing with Relatives – Defusing Triggers

Friday, December 6th, 2013



An association is a trigger like the song or smell that suddenly transports you back through time. When it comes to family both the people and the environment are powerful triggers. This is why you could be a competent adult with good communication skills and then in the presence of immediate family become a babbling nine-year-old again with everyone falling into the reactions and roles of the past.

One of the ways to break those associations, is neutral ground, which means purposely choosing an environment that is different.

In interviewing for the book Dealing with Relatives we met a couple that over Thanksgiving travels with her parents to someplace new and over Christmas travels somewhere new with his parents. Because they are all in a new place they find it easy not to fall into the same old rolls, I.e. The mother cooking for everybody every meal, the father having to watch his football games. Then the mother then getting annoyed at the father because he’s watching football while they have company. Or the mother making her adult son’s bed and then his wife getting pissed off at him for letting his mother do that, etc. etc. In the new environment all of that is swept out of the way and they discover each other in new ways.

But it doesn’t have to be as complex as taking a vacation. One person tells us that she makes sure to spend time with her mother and and father alone. By separating them, it automatically creates a different dynamic.

Another person tells us he likes to visit his parents when his sisters are not there, because if the sisters are present they dominate the conversation and dynamic.

Another person told us that when she visits her parents she likes to go to the Japanese gardens with just her father. First by separating the time from her mother, their dynamic changes and secondly she finds in that serene environment they have deeper conversations. She said:

“It was in the Japanese gardens that my father was once honest with me about a problem he observed in my relationship with my Mom.  He told me how I sometimes got short and irritated with her, and then hypercritical, after which I’d feel angry at myself.  If he would have told me this while were in their house, I suspect I would have had a hard time hearing it.  But the gardens were such a calming environment that I was able to hear his feedback rationally instead of reactively.   Something about the calm of that place allowed me to really hear it from him.”

Yes you can break past associations and discover people in a new way.

Dealing with Relatives – Handling Criticism

Thursday, December 5th, 2013


“Dealing with Criticism”

When being criticized the first thing to always keep in mind is that when people criticize, they are the ones with the problem not you. They have an issue with something and are projecting it on you.

The second thing to do is not engage in the content of the communication. Keep the focus on them, not you. You do this by speaking to “intent” and not “content”. Intent is the purpose behind a communication. Content is the communication itself.

So if someone makes a rude comment about how you look, instead of defending yourself you can just say, “Well I didn’t realize how fashion conscious you were.” You are making a statement about her, not you.

Even better is to project positive intent. That means you act like she has good intentions even if she doesn’t. An example of this would be, “Why thank you for caring about how I look. That is so sweet of you.”

You have now accomplished a two fold purpose. One, if she is out to get you and you can’t be gotten, it messes it up for her. Second you have trapped them into the positive intent. It is unlikely they will say, “No you stupid #^&*# I’m trying to cut you down.” Instead they will not deny your positive projection and will be forced to go along with the positive direction you set.

What if the criticizer is a parent? With parents, projecting positive intent is absolutely, positively the way to go. If they say you are fat, thank them for caring about your health and well being. If they want to know when you are getting married, appreciate them for caring about your relationship happiness.

These kinds of positive projections will melt a parent. Parents in general feel under appreciated by their children. Usually when you positive project on a parent they roll over and start kicking their leg like a dog getting it’s stomach rubbed. They will forget all about what they were criticizing you about and bask in your appreciation. Then you can just change the subject.

Prepare yourself! What positive projections will you say, when they say, what you know they will say. 😉

Dealing with Relatives Tip of the Day

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013


This is one of my favorite story / strategies told to me while doing interviews for the Dealing With Relatives book. It’s about going to a family gathering with the attitude of finding something special.

“Attitude is so important, you have to look for the good. When I was a little girl my dad used to play a game with me. We would go out for long walks, and in order to get me to walk another few minutes with him, he’d say pick a number between 50 and 200. Then we would walk that many steps, stop and look for treasure. And the neat thing was, when we looked, we always found something to treasure. Whether it was a pretty rock, a bug, or a leaf, branch, or flower, there was always something to appreciate as special.

So now when I go to a family gathering, I look for something to treasure, and sure enough, I always find something. It could be a three minute conversation with an uncle, or with a cousin I haven’t talked to before. One time I was chatting with the 24-year-old son of my cousin and his girlfriend, people I didn’t really know at all. They were fascinating people who were cool natural-food types and did interesting things in their lives. We had fun talking for an hour.

And the only reason this conversation happened was that I had decided ahead of time to look for a treasure. I saw people I didn’t know, and I sat down with them to see what treasure was there.”

What’s your special attitude going to be?


Dealing with Relatives Tip of the Day

Monday, December 2nd, 2013


Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting my favorite stories and strategies I’ve heard for dealing successfully with relatives. Here’s the first:

Have a Mantra. There’s a couple I know, who before leaving the house for an event, will look each other in the eyes and simultaneously say, “Just visiting.”

When they arrive, but before they ring the bell they look at each other and say, “ Just visiting.“

During the event if things start getting stressful they just give each other the look and silently say to themselves, “Just visiting.”

A pair of adult sisters use with their mother, “She’s just making conversation.”  That prevents them from getting caught up or taking too seriously their mother’s wild tangents or illogic. Instead they remind themselves, “She’s just making conversation,”  and that gives them permission to not engage, but just simply change the subject.

What’s your mantra?


How Do You Stop Whiners!

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Dr. Rick Brinkman gives you the secret strategy to get people out of whining and into problem solving.

When People Do Communication Training Together, the Results are Exponential!

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Dr. Rick Brinkman and his grad assistant Neelix, explain why when people do communication training together, they reinforce each other into positive behaviors and the results are exponential. They also talk about the December training opportunity.  (1 min)

Leadership and What Behaviors are Most Difficult

Monday, August 19th, 2013

I performed a webinar out of my own green screen studio for The Executive Roundtable recently. It was about the following.

Dealing with difficult people is something that everyone does on a regular basis. Leaders, in particular, may find themselves trying to manage and motivate people that they find challenging. But what makes some people more challenging than others? People often ask me what type of behavior is the most difficult to deal with. The answer isn’t that straightforward.

From my experience, here’s a list of the 10 most unwanted communicators:

The Tank

        : confrontational, pointed, and angry; the ultimate in pushy and aggressive behavior.

The Sniper

        : rude comments, biting sarcasm, rolling of the eyes.

The Grenade

        : brief calm followed by unfocused ranting and raving.

The Know-It-All

        : low tolerance for correction and contradiction.

The Think-They-Know-It-All

        : able to fool enough people that they are right.

The Yes person

        : eager to commit without thinking things through, which leads to resentment.

The Maybe person

        : procrastinates in the hope that a better choice will present itself.

The Nothing person

        : no verbal feedback, no nonverbal feedback. Nothing.

The No person

        : fights a never ending battle for futility; defeating ideas with a single syllable.

The Whiner

      : perfection is their standard, and no one and nothing measures up to it.

When people ask who the most difficult person is, I know that they’re secretly hoping I’ll tell them that the most problematic behavior is, in fact, the one exhibited by their #1 “problem” person. After all, it would validate that they are dealing with a jerk … and that they are not responsible for the problem.

But the truth is that difficulty is in the eye of the beholder: If you don’t know how to handle a behavior, it will be challenging for you. Because everyone reacts to thorny people differently, the behaviors that drive one person crazy won’t affect another person at all.

I recently spoke for a group of 75 people, 74 of whom were attending to learn how to deal with one “Tank” vice-president. A lone dissenter stood up and told her colleagues, “I don’t see what the problem is you people have with him. He’s a no-brainer to deal with.” Because she was wired differently than the rest, his behavior didn’t annoy or intimidate her.

Everyone has some skill handling certain behaviors. Other behaviors make us absolutely crazy because we’re missing the knowledge and/or attitude needed to successfully deal with the “problem” behavior. That’s where it pays to be a Conscious Communicator. By paying attention to what works — and what doesn’t — in human interaction, you can expand your communication skill set and achieve greater harmony with the people around you.

Which Behaviors Are Difficult for You?

In general, people who exhibit Get-It-Done behaviors are driven crazy by whiny or wishy-washy behaviors, because neither of these behaviors produces results. Whiners get nothing done because they are too busy wallowing in self-pity. Likewise, wishy-washy people accomplish little because they are fabulous at making commitments — and not keeping them. On the other hand, people who are friendly and desire harmony are intimidated by aggressive Tank-style behavior. People who are more expressive and emotional are driven crazy by Nothing people, who tend to be quiet and withdrawn, and vice versa.

Avoid or Play Nicely?
Avoidance can be a valid strategy when dealing with people exhibiting difficult behaviors. After all, dealing with a difficult behavior takes a lot of work, so you must ask yourself if the relationship or job is worth the energy you must spend dealing with the problem person. If it’s not worth the price, it might be easier to leave the situation … or to get the other person to leave.

Unfortunately, leaving or otherwise avoiding a situation is not always possible. Perhaps you don’t want to quit your job … or your problem person is a close relative. In this scenario, you have to change your attitude, a process that starts by focusing on how you would benefit by changing your own behavior or attitude. When you successfully learn how to handle a difficult behavior, you’re doing yourself a favor — not only this time, but every time you encounter that behavior.

For people in leadership positions, learning to successfully deal with all problem behaviors is extremely beneficial. A leader’s job is to bring out the best in others, as well as to orchestrate a successful working environment, which means you can’t afford to have a difficult behavior destroying the morale or productivity of your team. Over the course of a career, you will work with all different types of people. Knowing how to deal with all of them gives you a competitive edge over colleagues who don’t practice Conscious Communication.