10 Books That Will Help You Understand How Smart People Deal with Difficult People

It’s a contact sport. Business problems are people problems in disguise. This list helps both. Dealing with people isn’t a new problem. It’s been the same for more than 2,000 years. Even powerful emperors had to deal with difficult people.

Marcus Aurelius wrote, “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil…We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower.”

The most powerful person had trouble dealing with people 2,000 years ago–those issues today might be magnified. With little to no economic growth going forward, people have even more incentives to act in malicious ways. These books help ease the friction when people are the source of the problem. It’s our natural state: to work together for the benefit of the larger group.

Strategies of Psychotherapy by Jay Haley

Yes, this book was created for professionals giving care as therapists. The strategies detailed will still be able to help the crazies at work. It’s about the office game–guiding people to do what’s in the best interest of the company.

“When Freud discovered transference, he discovered that the patient and therapist were involved in an interactional game that required skill on the therapist’s part if both he and the patient were to benefit by the encounter. If the therapist is genuinely interested in helping the patient, and if he is experienced so that he can bring his skill to bear in at least a partially predictable way, then the style of the game he plays with the patient can vary widely and still be helpful.”

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness by Russ Roberts

“Adam Smith may have become the patron saint of capitalism after he penned his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations. But few people know that when it came to the behavior of individuals—the way we perceive ourselves, the way we treat others, and the decisions we make in pursuit of happiness—the Scottish philosopher had just as much to say. He developed his ideas on human nature in an epic, sprawling work titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments. By reinvigorating Smith’s neglected classic, Roberts provides us with an invaluable look at human behavior through the lens of one of history’s greatest minds.”

“The idea that other people care about themselves is generally a good thing to remember if you want them to do something for you in return,” says Russ Roberts. That strategy works as a manager, boss, CEO, or simply an entry-level employee.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

“Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”)-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.”

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts by Robert Bolton

“Robert Bolton describes the twelve most common communication barriers, showing how these “roadblocks” damage relationships by increasing defensiveness, aggressiveness, or dependency. He explains how to acquire the ability to listen, assert yourself, resolve conflicts, and work out problems with others. These are skills that will help you communicate calmly, even in stressful emotionally charged situations.”

People Skills will show you:

  • How to get your needs met using simple assertion techniques
  • How body language often speaks louder than words
  • How to use silence as a valuable communication tool
  • How to de-escalate family disputes, lovers’ quarrels, and other heated arguments

Both thought-provoking and practical, People Skills is filled with workable ideas that you can use to improve your communication in meaningful ways, every day.

It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough by Kathleen Kelly Reardon Ph.D.

As management professor and consultant Kathleen Reardon explains in her new book, It’s All Politics, talent and hard work alone will not get you to the top. What separates the winners from the losers in corporate life is politics.

As Reardon explains, the most talented and accomplished employees often take a backseat to their politically adept coworkers, losing ground in the race to get ahead—sometimes even losing their jobs. Why? Because they’ve failed to manage the important relationships with the people who can best reward their creativity and intelligence.

Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior by Beverly Flaxington

This book should not be missed by anyone who wants to improve the quality of their relationships! Leveraging decades of experience working with people in many different areas and experiences, Beverly Flaxington has found a way to explain to all of us what we simply don’t learn naturally – how to understand and communicate with others more effectively. Readers will gain the insights they need to identify relationship missteps, and then apply easy-to-learn techniques to bring relationships to a more meaningful level in both personal and business settings.

The Social Animal by David Brooks

“With unequaled insight and brio, New York Times columnist David Brooks has long explored and explained the way we live. Now Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life. This is the story of how success happens, told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica. Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to old age, illustrating a fundamental new understanding of human nature along the way: The unconscious mind, it turns out, is not a dark, vestigial place, but a creative one, where most of the brain’s work gets done. This is the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made the natural habitat of The Social Animal. Brooks reveals the deeply social aspect of our minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ.”

Out of Character by David DeSteno & Piercarlo Valdesolo

“Or have you ever pondered what might make Mr. Right leave his beloved at the altar, why hypocrisy seems to be rampant, or even why, every once in awhile, even you are secretly tempted, to lie, cheat, or steal (or, conversely, help someone you never even met)?

This book answers these questions and more, and in doing so, turns the prevailing wisdom about who we are upside down. Our character, argue psychologists DeSteno and Valdesolo, isn’t a stable set of traits, but rather a shifting state that is subject to the constant push and pull of hidden mechanisms in our mind. And it’s the battle between these dueling psychological forces that determine how we act at any given point in time.

Drawing on the surprising results of the clever experiments concocted in their own laboratory, DeSteno and Valdesolo shed new scientific light on so many of the puzzling behaviors that regularly grace the headlines.”

Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor

The manual for training behavior in animals–or humans. A groundbreaking behavioral scientist and dynamic animal trainer, Karen Pryor is a powerful proponent of the principles and practical uses of positive reinforcement in teaching new behaviors. Here are the secrets of changing behavior in pets, kids—even yourself—without yelling, threats, force, punishment, guilt trips…or shooting the dog:

  • The principles of the revolutionary “clicker training” method, which owes its phenomenal success to its immediacy of response—so there is no question what action you are rewarding
  • 8 methods of ending undesirable habits—from furniture-clawing cats to sloppy roommates
  • The 10 laws of “shaping” behavior–for results without strain or pain through “affection training”
  • Tips for house-training the dog, improving your tennis game, or dealing with an impossible teen
  • Explorations of exciting new uses for reinforcement training

Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want by Nicholas Epley

“Why are we sometimes blind to the minds of others, treating them like objects or animals instead? Why do we talk to our cars, or the stars, as if there is a mind that can hear us? Why do we so routinely believe that others think, feel, and want what we do when, in fact, they do not? And why do we think we understand our spouses, family, and friends so much better than we actually do?”

“In this illuminating book, leading social psychologist Nicholas Epley introduces us to what scientists have learned about our ability to understand the most complicated puzzle on the planet—other people—and the surprising mistakes we so routinely make. Mindwise will not turn others into open books, but it will give you the wisdom to revolutionize how you think about them—and yourself.”


This is part of a Real World MBA curriculum. Other parts of the curriculum include Management, Decision Making, Startups, Execution, Career Success, Finance, Strategy, Communicating, Ethics, Biographies and Marketing.