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Managing Difficult Relationships: How to Handle Different Monkeys (and what they think of you)

Today we have a second guest blog from author Pete English, on the topic of ‘Mastering Difficult Conversations: How to Handle Different Monkeys (and what they think of you)’.

This is part 2 of the earlier blog, ‘Mastering Difficult Conversations: What sort of monkey are you facing?


Managing Difficult Relationships
Part 2: How to Handle Different Monkeys
(and what they think of you)

Rapport is easier if you can identify the kind of person that you’re dealing with.

In my last blog post I described the different kinds of primates that we encounter in the workplace, and how to spot them. This post will show you how to tailor your approach to each type of monkey.

If you’re dealing with a Chimp you’ll know because they will want to focus on the task in hand, they’ll use debate as a way of getting to the truth (which can come across as argumentative) and they will be conscious of power relationships.

If you’re dealing with a Bonobo you’ll know because they are responsive and smiley when you talk to them, they’ll appear relaxed and friendly, and their primary focus will seem to be on the relationship – forming a connection with you.

If you tend to be a Chimp and you’re dealing with a Chimp, then it’s normally pretty straightforward – you ‘get’ each other. Similarly, Bonobos recognise one another and can rely on their preferred way of working. 

But if you’re a Chimp and you have to work with a Bonobo (or vice versa) then you need to adapt your approach.

How a Chimp Views a Bonobo

How a Chimp Views a Bonobo

The Chimp misinterprets the Bonobo’s friendliness as weakness.

How a Bonobo Views a Chimp

How a Bonobo Views a Chimp

The Bonobo misinterprets the Chimp’s strongly task-focused approach as an attempt to dominate and bully.


Whether you’re a Bonobo or a Chimp, if you are facing a difficult conversation and you want to avoid being misread here are three tips to help you handle the situation:

Tip 1 Pay Careful Attention to Etiquette.

Small things matter. If you are a Chimp, be very polite and solicitous (Bonobos place great emphasis on courtesy). If you are a Bonobo, show respect for the other person and their environment but without demeaning yourself (Chimps get very agitated if their physical, organisational or psychological territory is threatened).

Tip 2 Use ‘Safe Phrases’

The following phrases press the right buttons whether you are dealing with a Chimp or a Bonobo (they convey the message ‘we are in the same troop’):

  • ‘We can handle this’
  • ‘We’ll sort this’
  • ‘We’ll get through this’

Tip 3 Get a Grip on Your Inner Primate

Recognise that we all tend to act instinctively most of the time, and that this includes becoming defensive when we feel threatened (eg in a difficult conversation).  If you have the chance, have a clear view before the encounter of:

  • how you want to behave
  • what you are going to say
  • how you will respond if the other party behaves in a certain way.

Pete’s website is and he can be contacted at   He has written three Pocketbooks:

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