How To Deal With Difficult People, with Winn Claybaugh

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Human beings are a relational species. It’s important to our survival that we form meaningful connections with other human beings. But what do we do when we’re faced with people who seem hell bent on making things difficult for others? In the fourth and final episode of a series on the brain in the workplace, Dr. Daniel Amen, Tana Amen, and Winn Claybaugh go over the proper ways to approach people when there’s some friction involved.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're here with Winn Claybaugh, Be Nice (Or Else!). The one question we want you to think about for this podcast is who is the most difficult person that you interact with at work, and what's the one thing you can do to actually make it better. Because when you take responsibility for your relationships, everything changes.
So we began to talk, and we're going to talk about difficult people at work and how you deal with them. But we left off by talking about rules for gatherings. I'm curious about that. Can you share-
Winn Claybaugh: Absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... with us.
Winn Claybaugh: There's 10 gathering guidelines 'cause we talked about the importance of communication, bringing people together. So number one is sit in a circle. For some reason when people are sitting in a circle, it removes hierarchy. So we're all equal here, we're all important.
You can't have any problems. You can have a suggestion, but two solutions. So the words that we use are very, very important. One of them is sarcasm is not allowed. The reason why that is is you and I are best friends. We vacation together, we have fun with each other, we go to dinner with each other. So sarcasm is part of how we get along, it's our humor, how we relate to each other. In a staff meeting, it's inappropriate because staff meeting is also about coming up with new ideas. So we're going to just brainstorm wild, crazy ideas. You come up with some crazy idea, and I find an opportunity to get a little dig in you, little sarcasm at your expense. You know I love you 'cause we've been best friends for years. I put that out there, you laugh, everybody laughs, but are you going to be as free with your creativity next time? No. What did I just do to my best friend?
So in a staff meeting, sarcasm just isn't appropriate.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Winn Claybaugh: Other things like it's great to have a mind of your own, use it only when it matters. That's one of the gathering guidelines because people just like to talk. "Well, you already said that idea, so do I need to repeat it too? Do I need to jump in on that too?" I have a mind of my own, use it only when it matters.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Winn Claybaugh: We recommend, and I have it, that gathering guidelines is poster-size, hanging in the room where people are gathering 'cause I overhear people in the staff meeting say, "Number five, number five," which is no sarcasm. "No sarcasm here." So they remind each other, "Oh, we're in a huddle. We're in communication mode, we're in staff celebration right now. Let's stay focused [crosstalk 00:03:35]-"
Tana Amen: Powerful words.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I love that. That was so helpful. So I know as the Dean of this school, you have dealt with some difficult people, whether it's students or business owners. Do you have some tips for our listeners on what are some of the things they can do to make the situation better and not inflamed?
Winn Claybaugh: Well, if we're talking about a difficult [crosstalk 00:04:01]?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Or it could be a difficult [crosstalk 00:04:04].
Winn Claybaugh: ... and by the way, students are my customers. [crosstalk 00:04:09] When a customer complains, the last thing that we want to do is place blame or make an excuse. "Well, you didn't get a good service today because so and so was out sick." Well, I don't really care about that as a customer. So we don't place blame, we don't make an excuse. It's basically, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry you're going through this. How can I make this better? How can I make this a better experience for you?" People just want to be listened to. They want to be heard. The same thing applies in a team member situation too. People just need to be heard, and so it's just that honest communication. What do they say, "Praise publicly, but coach privately." So these are always private conversations.
Sometimes we want to get that dig into a difficult employee, to the masses, we want to do it publicly in front of the rest of the team, and that's just is never going to go well. So anytime that you have that difficult conversation, we call them fierce conversations, where somebody is difficult and they're not performing at their best, or they're doing something that could compromise their job, compromise their employment, it always has to be a private conversation.
But people need to be listened to. People need to be heard because sometimes we don't know the story. We don't know, but that something is going on at home. We don't know, but that they ran over their cat that day. We don't know the story, [crosstalk 00:05:32]. But we have to have the information.
Tana Amen: I agree with you. Sometimes it's simply the way that you speak to someone can either elevate it, or it can escalate it, or you can diffuse it.
Winn Claybaugh: It's a skillset.
Tana Amen: It is.
Winn Claybaugh: It's a skillset to know how to diffuse people, and to be a great listener.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative), I totally agree with that.
Winn Claybaugh: We spend years learning how to talk, how to read, how to write. How much time have we spent on how to listen?
Tana Amen: So true.
Winn Claybaugh: Yet if we're talking about a customer, what's a customer's number one complaint? "They don't listen to me."
Tana Amen: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:06:06] the environment that I worked in for so long, that wasn't a necessary skillset. Being very assertive was just what you had to do, and being just very intense, and everyone's yelling and it's just very intense. So coming out of that and becoming a mother, boy, do you have learn a new skillset. Daniel was very helpful with me with that.
Winn Claybaugh: One of our cultural beliefs, what we train people is the philosophy of go in asking.
Tana Amen: I like that.
Winn Claybaugh: Go in asking. Meaning, when you go into those situations, ask questions 'cause what we do is we go into a situation thinking that we have all the facts. We don't have all the facts.
Tana Amen: Right.
Winn Claybaugh: Every time that I go in without asking, I blow it because I assume that the reason why they're acting this way is because of this, this, and this-
Tana Amen: So true.
Winn Claybaugh: ... and I didn't have this piece of information that really would've helped the conversation, so we always say that, "Hey, you're having a coaching session, just make sure you go in asking." So when we sit down with that difficult person, we're going to ask questions. Before we go in blasting, before we go in accusing, before we go in assuming that they are guilty, let's just go in asking first.
Tana Amen: I like that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I have a phrase I like a lot. I actually used it this morning with a patient: be curious, not furious. So that's very much similar to what you're saying is go in asking rather than blaming, 'cause when you blame, you lose almost right out of the gate because now you're a victim of the other person, and you have no power.
In Feel Better Fast and Make it Last, I have this pneumonic I love called "relating". It's in the Attachment chapter because we are relationship beings. We're not polar bears. Polar bears can be just happy alone except for very few brief moments when they're [crosstalk 00:07:58] or they're having sex. Otherwise, they're happy. Humans are unhappy. Actually, being isolated is a risk factor for dementia. But relating is ... R is responsibility. I'm responsible for this interaction. What is it I can do today to make it better? I know I can make it worse. It's empathy, seeing things from their standpoint. Listening, just like you said, we don't listen. If you just listen to the news, they're screaming over each other. It's terrible.
A is assertiveness. You have to be able to say what you believe. Too often, anxiety causes other people to abuse you because you can't stand up for yourself. Time, actual physical time, just like you said, if you just went to your office and locked the door, people are going to make up stories about you. They need time.
The I is really special. It's inquire. It's are your thoughts helpful or hurtful? So it's actually inquiring into [crosstalk 00:09:04] your own thought. N is notice what you like more than what you don't. How do they train animals to do amazing things? It's positive reinforcement. G is grace and forgiveness because all of us make mistakes. If you just take an inventory of the mistakes you've made, you're going to be more graceful with other people.
Tana Amen: You made a good ... one distinction was assertiveness. One thing we learn in martial arts, 'cause people think, "Oh, you're training in martial arts is very aggressive." Actually, it's not. They make a very strong distinction between aggression and assertion. What they really focus on is not being aggressive, removing aggression, and focusing on being assertive only when necessary. So it's a very interesting distinction.
Winn Claybaugh: To come with all of that, we have to have what I call a reservoir. We have to have this full. So we teach people, "It's your responsibility to fill this up. It's not anybody's job to make you happy, and so what do you need to do to fill this thing up every single day?"
Tana Amen: I love that.
Winn Claybaugh: Whether it's at the gym every single day, whether it's time with my daughter, calling my 92-year-old mother every single day to [crosstalk 00:10:11]. Tomorrow morning, I fly to [crosstalk 00:10:14].
Tana Amen: Oh, that's so great.
Winn Claybaugh: Yeah, taking mom to see the Donny and Marie show in [crosstalk 00:10:18].
Tana Amen: He is such a special person too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Great people.
Winn Claybaugh: So it's all those things. If I'm not doing these things, if I'm not filling up my own reservoir, which again is my job, then of course I'm coming to work, I'm coming to any relationship empty. When I'm empty, it's never going to go well.
Tana Amen: That's so true.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So what is that one thing you can do to make your relationships better? Post that on social media and Leave us questions. To learn more about Winn Claybaugh's work, you can go to You can also get the book, and it's available everywhere, Be Nice (Or Else!). We're so grateful for your friendship, [crosstalk 00:11:13] time. [crosstalk 00:11:14] being part of our family, and-
Winn Claybaugh: Well, this is still a bit of a starstruck moment for me. You know that, right?
Tana Amen: You, of all people, with what you do.
Winn Claybaugh: No, no, no, 'cause I was a fan studying the two of you and what you're all about, so I still get a little ... thank you.
Tana Amen: Well, you're a story yourself.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Have a better brain, and a better life. Stay with us.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode. While you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're considering coming to Amen Clinics, or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code posdcast10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at, or a 10% discount on all supplements at For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.