GRATITUDE for Challenging People

By Dr. Maria Church, CSP, CPC

By Dr. Maria Church, CSP, CPC

It is easy to be grateful for all the good things in our life – the promotion, reaching and surpassing your goals, a killer interview, or helping your team member overcome a challenge. This is good stuff and easy to be grateful for. However, being grateful for challenging colleagues or customers too, can also be a blessing.


How about starting a “super-challenge” in the spirit of a challenging person? Find what you may be grateful for with a challenging colleague or customer! Yup, find the gratitude in challenging people. Why are they challenging? What is it about them that drives us crazy? The answers to these questions may put you straight in front of those things about yourself that you’d rather not see. Challenging people are a mirror to aspects about ourselves that may not be popular. Challenging co-workers or clients, whether it is with situations, tasks, or people are the hidden blessings that propel us to grow as individuals and as leaders.


To support you in this extended challenge, just remember GRATITUDE:


Giving. Give someone the benefit of the doubt when they challenge your patience. Try giving that person some grace. You really don’t know what is happing in their lives that may be influencing their “challenging” behavior. Everyone goes through highs and lows. Many people hope that when it is their turn to experience a low and they are not exhibiting the best behavior, a co-worker will give them the benefit of the doubt.


Receiving. Position yourself to receive what the challenging co-worker of customer may have to say with openness and without judgment. This action may be awkward at first as walls go up when criticism or complaints occur. Receiving complaints can actually be positive, as that person giving the complaint believes that you can do something about it – they have faith in you! If they didn’t, they would say nothing.


Abundance. Choosing an abundance mindset over a scarcity one affords you the opportunity for many different outcomes. Looking at the challenging colleague and trying to find a solution can sometimes be exhausting because you may not see options. With a scarcity mindset, the options are typically either/or. With an abundance mindset, the possibilities are endless, energizing solutions instead of an exhausting experience.


Thankfulness. Being thankful for the challenging customer or teammate may be the last thing on your mind. However, this challenging person may just be the growth you need or want as a leader. They don’t call it growing pains for nothing! When growth happens as a leader and individual, it shows up as experience and wisdom. Growth must be continuous to be effective at leading and in life.


Intention. Leading and living with intention is the needed edge to be effective. So often, leaders are responding and reacting to challenging people without intention. Those exchanges can have miserable and highly stressful outcomes. When you approach the challenging person with a specific intention, your thought (intention) influences your behavior. If your intention is to come to resolution in this exchange, then your behavior will match.


Together. So much has been said over the decades of how much more is accomplished together than alone. When dealing with a challenging person, remember that they are connected to you – not on an island on their own. Find the connection that can break through the barrier of separateness. Do you share a love of art? Horses? Leadership books? This commonality can be something personal that connects you both. Bring that connection to the forefront for the dismantling of the challenging situation.


Unconditionally. No conditions, without strings, no quid-pro-quo when breaking through the challenge barrier – nada. If you want true connection, unconditional presence and without judgment will help you connect with one another. If you accept your colleagues for who they are, you will find the challenging aspects of them diminish in size. Think about a team with different skills, competencies, and personalities. Each has their own challenging aspects but are valued for their unique contributions.


Directed. Just as being intentional, a direct focus on the challenging individual enhances your presence and the way you show up. When you direct your attention, body language, and energy towards the challenging person, it will be noticed and appreciated. This tells the other person that they are valuable and important enough to be given your full attention.


Everyone. Everyone is challenging at times. When challenging people come into your life, there is a lesson and an opportunity for you. The choice is yours in what you want to do with that opportunity. Challenging people are a blessing and a curse. It really is all about your perception of that individual or circumstance. Your ability to expand your perception could be one of your greatest skills as a leader and as a human. How will you step or seize on your opportunity?


Following the GRATITUDE steps will make your organizational culture and customer experiences much more pleasant. With an office environment steeped in gratitude, you will find a more productive and happy workplace and a great ROI in your GRATITUDE investment.  When you are in a state of GRATITUDE, even with challenging co-workers and customers, you will give and receive care and abundance. You will become thankful for the intentional way you choose to live your life at work. This awareness could bring you together to unconditionally direct your attention and gratitude to everyone. Bottom line – the choice is yours. Choose well.

Dr. Maria Church, CSP, CPC, is a speaker, consultant, and executive coach. As CEO of Dr. Maria Church International, including Government and Corporate divisions, and Leadership Development University, she specializes in organizational culture, change agility, and leadership development with over 25 years working for Fortune 500, local government, non-profit, and academia. Her 10th Anniversary Edition of Love-Based Leadership will be released in December 2020. She may be reached at

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