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Book Review: 'Difficult Personalities' by Helen McGrath and Hazel Edwards

April 17, 2010 |  1:26 pm

Difficult PersonalitiescoverMost people have at least one person in their lives they consider "difficult." This is the co-worker, in-law, neighbor or friend who's bullying, controlling, hypercritical or so anxious they can't make a decision.

Interactions with them can be challenging, frustrating, even perilous, depending on the role they play in your life. A new book, "Difficult Personalities," by Helen McGrath, a clinical psychologist and adjunct university professor in Melbourne, Australia, and writer Hazel Edwards, offers advice on managing this kind of behavior in other people -- and in yourself.

The authors share insights into what's behind various personality traits, typical behavior, positive aspects of the types and practical strategies you can use to deal with them or cope with your own tendencies.

Their approach changes depending on the behavior. With worriers and perfectionists, they suggest offering understanding, empathy and a reality check. With inflexible and over-controlling people they suggest an assertive, rational and sometimes reassuring manner. They describe pragmatic ways to confront and defuse (or avoid) negative, bossy or "superior" people. And for dealing with bullies, con artists and sociopaths, they focus on concrete steps to identify the behaviors and protect yourself.

But for the most part, McGrath and Edwards advise an approach toward other people -- and ourselves -- that is respectful and compassionate, recognizing that we all have flaws and annoying traits. To that end, they include chapters on getting on top of anxiety, practicing rational thinking, managing anger, negotiating conflict and maintaining strong romantic partnerships.

They base much of their material, they say, on the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," the widely used American Psychiatric Assn. reference book. They also draw on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator psychological test to discuss ways to manage differences between introverts and extroverts, thinkers and feelers, and planners and "optionizers." 

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "Difficult Personalities," Helen McGrath and Hazel Edwards, the Experiment, $14.95

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