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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Dealing with difficult people when you have no choice

It’s Wise Wednesdays!

Thank you to everyone who took part in the beyond Imposter Syndrome webinar! We had some great input from a range of people including early career professionals and doctors, organisational leaders/CEOs and independent professionals.

Here’s the webinar replay.

Tomorrow, we have a wonderful group of career explorers at the Leaders Circle at Harley Street where we’ll dive deeper into this month’s theme on imposter syndrome (and anti-imposter syndrome). I’m very much looking forward to it. (n.b. The event is full now, so apologies if you’ve tried to sign up and been taken to the waiting list).

Dates for your diary: - Next Leaders Circle online webinar (60min): Wednesday 12th of September, 6.30pm UK / 1.30pm EST / 10.30am PST. Register here: - Next Leaders Circle at Harley Street (2 hours): Thursday 27th of September, 6.30pm. Ticket details to follow.

The theme is likely to be dealing with difficult people…


But don’t you just love difficult people? You know, the people who challenge you to muster all the self-composure, self-awareness and wisdom that you can and who ultimately push you to face your own issues?...

Well, I do hold them with more love today, but there was a time I really believed the world would be a better place if I didn’t have to deal with them…

At school, we had fun competitive rivalries about who would be top of this or that subject but work was a different ball game. It felt more serious because our livelihoods were at stake.


Have I ever mentioned the senior colleague who felt threatened by anything I said and who I accidentally overheard talking about me in a less than flattering way while at work (crushing); or the colleague who tried to smear campaign me so that we had to have a mediated meeting? That was just the first year.

Luckily, I had a friend who was a diplomat and politician and I got schooled in the art of keeping calm under fire and avoiding saying anything inflammatory so that the other party had plenty of room and rope to get themselves caught up in their own lies! Who said doctors were nice?...

We all have to deal with difficulty in work relationships. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong but that you’re in the real world with other people.

The funniest and probably most helpful thing I heard about the subject was that while we’re busy wondering how to deal with the difficult person, the difficult person is busy wondering how to deal with us.


See below for a video on 4 strategies for dealing with unfair criticism gracefully from a previous Wise Wednesdays.


While I'm glad I developed survival skills for hostile situations and toxic work cultures, I'm glad I don't have to deal with them right now. These things can leave battle scars...

In my later years, I think I pre-emptively avoided trouble by being extra careful about which teams and jobs I picked and cutting my losses when things looked iffy...It's one of the reasons I didn't continue in full time academia, for example, after the brutal realisation that fighting for justice and saving lives didn't exclude stabbing your colleagues in the back under a system of ethics that still eludes me.

I loved research and was good at it; and while my immediate team was supportive, I couldn’t stay blind to the lawlessness of the jungle beyond…

The good thing is I started to understand what Gandhi meant by "be the change you want to see in the world" i.e. don’t just talk and write clever papers about it but practise the principles and values you believe are true in your daily affairs. That’s how I ended back in global health policy and eventually started getting drawn to transformational coaching.


Legend in the making: Congratulations to Dr E who bravely used a tailor-made non-violent communication approach we discussed on a situation she was battling for months. She communicated openly, clearly and vulnerably, and suddenly unlocked horns with a key person in the hospital. This opened the door to facilitating an improved care pathway that will make a big difference to patients. Here’s to NHS health system improvement the wise and loving way.


For what it’s worth, here are a few things I learned from dealing with difficult people over 13 years in health and related organisations:

- Difficult people often represent an aspect of our personality that is repressed or that we're unaware of. - If you're not sure whether it's them or you, make it you. It's the only person you can control anyway. - Sometimes difficult people are just difficult. - You can't always resolve everything with the person or situation but you can find peace within and feel good again. - Sometimes you understand what it was all about years later. - Most people are just scared and don't know any better. - Hear the request underneath the attack or grievance (yours and other people's i.e. what's the underlying unmet need: significance, respect connection, etc.?) - It's always best to practise patience, kindness and compassion AND you have a right to boundaries and personal space. - You don't have to suffer toxic work cultures or relationships - we always have a choice. If Viktor Frankl found a way to exercise freedom of choice in a death camp, we can do it in our cosy western lives. - We’re all going to the same place eventually, so take the appropriate action and let the thing go as soon as you can.

Remember to see the small, frightened child in the bully AND stand up for yourself with all the courage and love of a mother lioness.

Have a great week,


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