Authors Posts by Dr. Ganz Ferrance, PH.D., R. PSYCH.

Dr. Ganz Ferrance, PH.D., R. PSYCH.

Dr. Ganz Ferrance, PH.D., R. PSYCH.
“Dr. Ganz” is an international speaker; author; entrepreneur, and award-winning psychologist. His straight-forward and humorous style has made him a sought-after coach, speaker and media favourite. He has been helping individuals, families and organizations have greater success, and more satisfying lives, for over 20 years.


Coping with challenging people


When I was younger I loved action movies. The explosions and fights, fueled by testosterone, were fun to watch. I didn’t realize that I was also learning an important lesson about how to deal with others. No, I’m not talking about blowing them up! I was being schooled in the “Steven Seagal approach to dealing with difficult people.”

Steven Seagal, an action star from the 1990s (Remember the movies Under Siege, Above the Law, and Hard to Kill?), practiced the martial art Aikido. The idea of this concept is to absorb the opponent’s force and redirect it. Most of us have been taught the “boxing approach” to dealing with problematic people and relationships. We either meet force with a matching force, or “absorb the punch with our face.”

“Validate, accept and support before trying to teach, correct, influence, or fix the problem.”

The “Aikido way” to do this is to validate, accept and support before trying to teach, correct, influence, or fix the problem. And, it is not enough to say, “Yeah, I know what you mean.” It works way better if you show someone you understand by repeating their words back to them in your own way, while listening for the feelings behind their words. I call this “drive-thru talking,” echoing the order to make sure you got it right. It works something like this: if the other person says, “I hate this weather,” you can reflect this back, “So, what you’re saying is this weather is really getting you down?” I know this sounds like a lot of extra effort, but if you can show that you understand, and validate how the other person is feeling, most of the issue is already resolved. You don’t have to agree with the other person’s feelings or opinion to validate that they see it that way. If you acknowledge it is true for them (feelings, opinions, etc.), that’s all you need to do. Once people feel heard and understood they are much more open to discussion.

There’s another thing I learned from Steven Seagal. He was criticized for being deadpan and not showing emotion in his “acting.” This is an approach you can adopt; not being blank, but being calm. Of course, it is not easy to be engaged and unattached at the same time —but that’s exactly what is needed when you are dealing with conflict or a difficult person. You have more success when you are fully engaged in the process, and with the individual, but are unattached to having situations go a certain way. Stay open to how matters may develop, and practice “drive-thru talking.”

The importance of being engaged while staying unattached was hammered home to me in my training (both as a psychologist, and as a black belt in Karate), and is important to you, too. Your main task is to manage your own emotional and physical state. There are at least two reasons for this. The first is that you perform at your best (hear, think, and speak more clearly) when you’re calm. The second reason is that when you are more stable, you provide a template for the other person to settle down. If you know you are going to have to deal with someone difficult, prepare yourself. Visualize something pleasant; get some extra rest; eat well; go for a quick walk, or do whatever it takes to help you get into a positive and calm headspace. If you are ambushed, call a “time-out” by going to the bathroom, and take a moment to get yourself together.

Being aware of, and managing, your own state works great in the moment—but practice doing it all the time—so the technique is there when you need it (like Steven did – practicing and training in Aikido long before he had to deal with any bad guys in his movies). Start by taking mini-breaks of one to two minutes, where you just sit or stand and take a few deep breaths, noticing what your body is doing (mindfulness), a few times during the day. This can make a huge difference in your overall state of calm. You will quickly learn that it’s okay to slow down, and you will begin to automatically stop moving every now and then, so you don’t get caught in a spiral of emotions or negativity. You will find that you are calmer in general, have more energy at the end of the day, feel happier, and sleep better, too!

“You perform at your best when you’re calm.”

Happiness is also an important condition to focus on when you’re not in active conflict. Think of your life like balance scales (e.g., the scales of justice). The more energy draining concerns you have on one side, the more you need energy giving things on the other, if you want to stay balanced. My goal is to make you unbalanced in the positive direction!

Some other elements that can add positivity to your life include:  sleep; vacations; a healthy diet; spirituality; a good psychologist; friends; hobbies, and journalling. Remember, “The better you feel—the better you do!” This is especially so if you find yourself “Under Siege” when dealing with difficult people.


Taking responsibility for your actions helps others heal

I am sorry messageAs we leap past Valentine’s Day and “the month of love,” into March, it’s good to look at what goes into building and maintaining a lasting relationship long after all the chocolates are eaten and the flowers have died. One of the things I’ve noticed in my years of practice is that people don’t always get how, when, or even why to apologize. Much less knowing how to do it so it lands right – instead of triggering Armageddon. Here are some thoughts and ideas that will help you say “sorry” the right way the first time.

Why should you apologize?

You apologize to fix the relationship, not because of the obligations of society. When you say “sorry” it’s your attempt to repair the damage, so you can continue the way things were, or build things even better. Just trying to make thing right builds depth and intimacy even more than if you didn’t mess up in the first place.

When should you apologize?

There is no “best before date” on saying “sorry.” Whenever you realize, or are made aware that you have hurt some one, it’s totally appropriate to apologize. Even years later, a heart-felt apology can be extremely meaningful to someone receiving it.

But don’t say “sorry” just to make the problem go away. First off, it will seem fake and then you lose credibility for the future; secondly, it’s not fair for you to take responsibility for things that aren’t yours – you rob the other person of their opportunity to grow and you’ll start to resent the relationship and the other person after awhile.

What is an apology?

When you apologize you are letting the other person know that you are taking responsibility for how your actions caused them pain. Whether you intended it or not!

An example I use a lot in my talks and with my clients is: If I walk over to you to give you a birthday present, but I stumble and step on your toes; most reasonable people would think that it would be appropriate to apologize. I would be acknowledging how my actions (stepping on your toes) hurt you – even if my intent was to help you (delivering your gift.) So you don’t need to have bad intent to offer an apology. Just acknowledge the other persons feelings and take ownership for your actions. “I’m so sorry I broke your toe when I stepped on your foot. Can I take you to the hospital or get you some ice?”

So when you say “sorry” you’re not saying that it was all your fault. In fact, you’re not saying anything about fault at all. You’re just being responsible and grown up.

An apology is not a sign of weakness, but rather it’s a sign of strength and maturity. People respect others who can own their own stuff. You grow in the eyes of other healthy people – not shrink.

“Sorry” is also not a magic word that guarantees you’ll be forgiven. If you really care about the other person, you will understand (and even let them know) that they may need some time to let the apology sink in and feel safe with you again.

What does a good apology look like?

The truth is that the best apology is the simplest apology. You should acknowledge that you hurt the other person and identify their feelings if possible. You take responsibility for your behavior. You offer to make it right. And then you should stop talking!

Most people can understand the first three parts but mess up by not keeping quiet after. Anything you say after this weakens the apology. If they ask you what was going on, or for clarification then you can give it, but this is not the time for explanations (and definitely not excuses) with out being asked for one!

“An apology is not a sign of weakness, but rather it’s a sign of strength and maturity.”

What does a bad one look like?

If you really want to screw up your relationship, you can also use the word “sorry” in one of these abusive ways that makes the other person wrong:

  • “Sorry your toe is broken” (denying your role in the toe-breaking).
  • “Jeeesse, I’m sooorrrry!” (dripping with sarcasm and with the obligatory eye-roll).
  • “Sorry your feet are so big” or “sorry your toes are soooo sensitive!”
  • “Sorry I broke your toe, but you know I’m clumsy. It’s not my fault!”
  • “Sorry I broke your toe, but if your feet weren’t in the way, or you were smart enough to wear steel-toed boots, none of this would have happened!”

I think you get the idea. If you really care about the other person, don’t make their pain or your actions their fault.

So remember, acknowledge how your actions caused the other person pain, offer to make it right and then keep quiet!  You’ll not only be able to fix your relationship when you mess up, but you’ll be able to build strength and intimacy with the person you care about.

Points to remember:

  1. You apologize to restore (and build) the relationship.
  2. Don’t say “sorry” just to make the argument or problem go away.
  3. Only strong, healthy people say “sorry.”
  4. Take responsibility for your actions.
  5. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings.
  6. Try to make it right where you can.
  7. Shut up!! Don’t justify or make excuses – just say “sorry” and stop talking.
  8. You can say “sorry” even if you didn’t intend to hurt the other person.
  9. It’s NEVER too latean apology doesn’t have an expiration date.
  10. It may take time for the other person to forgive you – “sorry” is NOT a magic word.


Reduce Your Stress and Build Happier Kids

Parenting can be both the most difficult thing you have ever done and, at the same time, the most rewarding. The whole endeavor would be so much easier if they slid you the “owner’s manual” when you got to take your little bundle of joy home from the hospital. If you misplaced yours, like I did, here are five points that can make your life a lot easier and give your kids the start in life they deserve.iStock_000013790134XXLarge

“Your home needs to be a miniature version of how society functions.”

1. Do your best – let go of the rest.

I know this first one sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s actually true. The last thing your kid needs is an uptight mom or dad who’s so afraid to make a mistake that they’re no fun to be around.

Parenting is an extremely important job, but you don’t have to be perfect to be a good at it. Actually, when you screw up you have an opportunity to make your kid stronger while building a better relationship with them—all at the same time.

How it works is like this: when you mess things up (try to change your baby when she’s hungry; misjudge your teen when he’s being honest; etc.) your child’s brain goes into a bit of chaos and the relationship is strained. However, when you take responsibility for messing things up, apologize, and fix it, you actually build trust in you and in the relationship.

Your child’s brain also comes out of chaos and establishes stability at a higher order of organization. This is nature’s way of protecting both you and your kid from the natural screw-ups that all parents do. So the take away here is you can let yourself off the hook. Don’t stress out—just do your best and make it right when you mess up.

2. Have a philosophy and a goal to organize your parenting plan.

Any trip is way easier when you have a good idea about where you’re going. A clear understanding of what you want to accomplish as a parent is like having destination when you’re travelling. The whole point of parenting is to create healthy, happy, successful, responsible members of society before you release them into the wild.

What this means then is that, over the 18 or so years you have them, they have to learn how to look after themselves and figure out how the world works. Your home needs to be a miniature version of how society functions.

That means the positive and negative consequences that happen for you when you’re walking around in life also need to be reflected for your kids in your home. If you don’t want your kids to be rude to their boss and get fired when they are on their own – then you can’t tolerate them being rude to you.

3. Show lots of love and lots of discipline.

Many parents have probably heard that you need to balance between love and discipline in order to be a good parent. Unfortunately, that’s not really how it works. You actually need lots of love AND lots of discipline to be effective.

You need to have unwavering and unconditional acceptance for who your child is (their “being”) regardless of their behavior. At the same time, you also need to have very clear rules and consequences for what they do (their “behavior”). Both these things need to be communicated consistently in your words, actions and attitudes. An example would be, “Little Johnny or Susie, I love you. There’s nothing that you can do to make that change. Because I love you I also have these rules for how you act so that you can learn how to function on your own one day. I also love you enough to always follow through on the consequences we talked about when you don’t follow the rules.”

4. All the adults play (hopefully as a team).

Consistency is extremely important to kids. That means that whatever rules you set up you have to be willing and able to follow through all the time. It also means that all the adults involved with the kids should back each other up as much as possible.

When you “throw your partner under the bus” you undermine their authority but also your own—and you confuse your kids in the process. Except in the case of abuse or other unacceptable behavior, support your partner’s decision in front of kids.

If there’s an issue, go somewhere private and discuss things until you both can agree on a course of action. If something needs to be changed the parents who originally dealt with the kids presents the change to the children.

For example: “We talked it over and we think this is a better way to go” rather than “Your mother doesn’t agree with me, so I guess we’re doing it her way, again” complete with eye rolls. Anyone can all be either too hard or too soft at different times. When you go back you will have a more appropriate response that actually builds the relationship (remember point #1) and your credibility as a parent.

Sometimes it’s not possible for all the adults to be on the same page—like in a shared custody situation. If the parent or parents on the other side don’t support your program you can still provide consistency to your kids when they’re in your home. Let them know that the rules of the other house should be followed when they’re there but the rules in this house need to be followed when they’re here.

When you can support the adults and the other home, even when you don’t agree, you make it much less confusing for the kids and provide them with much needed stability and balance. You also end up being someone they can count on to be reasonable and therefore trustworthy.

5. Remember that you’re the one in charge.

Your kids don’t have to give you the authority or the respect you deserve—it’s already yours. When you remember this and step fully into your leadership role you give your kids the confidence, safety, and happiness they deserve. You end up having more fun too.


Hold On To Your Kids.

Gordon Neufeld and Gabore Mate

Power Parenting

(CD). Dr. Ganz Ferrance

Parenting From the Inside out.

Daniel Siegel



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