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Review of "Coping With Difficult People"

By Robert M. Bramson
Simon & Schuster Sound Ideas, 1986
Review by Michael Sakuma, Ph.D. on Nov 19th 2003
Coping With Difficult People

Some people spend thousands of dollars, and years on therapy to help deal with the vicissitudes of life. Other people spend twenty dollars or so and three hours listening to an audiotape that can tell you how to "cope with all of the difficult people" that you might encounter. The path that chosen is up to the individual based partly on their values, lifestyles and free time. There is debate as to which is the more efficient use of money.

That said, my curiosity was piqued when I picked up this audiotape (CD actually, but that is beside the point) claiming to give "all the tools necessary to put those difficult people in their place. This is just what I've been looking for…imagine, me, being able to cope with others "problematic" behavior once and for all… it sounds too good to be true. And whereas I haven't spent thousands of dollars in therapy, I have spent years and years in graduate school where they hinted, but did not explicitly tell me what I should be doing. I figured that this might be the best twenty bucks I'll ever spend.

I listened to the CDs… some more than once, and I was… lets say... disappointed. There is some good stuff here, but I certainly don't feel prepared (from these lessons) to stand up for myself put my boss or difficult coworker in their places. There are good, bad (and ugly) things about the program. Allow me to quickly outline them.

The Good: The program describes several different "difficult" styles that a person might encounter. Description and identification is often a big part of solving a problem and the program breaks people into types for identification. The names given to the types are a bit hokey (e.g. "snipers", "sherman tanks", "clams") but they provide nice mnemonic devices for easy remembering Some basics of effective communication are discussed, and certainly the advice to "schedule an appointment" to talk to the person is in line with my belief that one should never engage a difficult person in the "heat of the moment." Distance is often good so that cooler, more rational minds might prevail.

The Bad: The presentation of the problems and scripted solutions leave something to be desired, both in structure/acting and in content. The skits along with the music laced all throughout the program reminds me of the skits that I used to watch on sesame street, or in school during 5th grade. I think I would have been able to take the program more seriously if it were presented differently (maybe).

The Ugly: When all is said and done I believe that this product is marketed towards fast-food-mentalitied, corner cutting, listening-on-the-train-to-work people who want a quick and easy way to deal with possibly deep problems in communication or self-esteem. Whereas the cover of the box promises results, there are no absolutes in this field when we deal with the dynamics of human interaction and certainly no generic sure fixes to interpersonal conflicts. It is my belief that are no short-cuts to well developed social skills and without significant practice with another thinking, feeling person, most of these lessons will go unheeded and forgotten. The problem with programs like these is that they try to conceptualize a dynamic interchange between two people as a static item to be memorized It is a little like trying to learn Karate from a book. You might pick up some basics, but you will be lost when someone comes at you from a different angle than the picture shows.

I would be remiss if I didn't re-emphasize that there is good stuff here. If this review sounds like I am being a "Sherman tank" it is because I am reacting to the promises on the front of the box. It is my feeling that a few sessions with a good therapist practicing effective communication might be a better use of your time and money.


2003 Michael Sakuma

Michael Sakuma is Chair of the Psychology Department at Dowling College, Long Island, New York.