10 Simple Tips For Dealing With Difficult People

SOFT SKILLS MATTER)Does dealing with difficult people stress you out? If so, then you may benefit by learning some appropriate interpersonal communication strategies.

The world is full of difficult people who can make your life miserable if you let them. Difficult people come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. They can be demanding and exhausting causing a great deal of distress for anyone with whom they come in contact. Interacting and dealing with these people can be a major cause of lowered productivity, efficiency, creativity and morale in a workplace.

Remember that old definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well that can certainly apply when dealing with difficult individuals. Instead, you have to learn to change your language and communication approaches to overcome or get around their difficult behaviours.

Interpersonal conflict in the workplace can be quite common, and can also be healthy if handled in the right way. However, a lot of people avoid dealing with difficult people because they don’t feel they have the power to do anything about the situation, don’t have the skills to resolve difficult interactions, or fear potential consequences.

The following tips are some emotional intelligence and communication options that I have found to be quite helpful when dealing with difficult people in any situation.

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1. Change Your Behaviour: Attempting to control other people’s behavior usually doesn’t work. It is usually more effective if you change your behaviour in relation to them. Try to refocus your energy on experimenting with how to find a more productive means of interacting with them.
2. Listen with Empathy: Listening actively with empathy can definitely help to gain more understanding and ultimately more trust. If they feel they can trust you, there is a greater chance that you will be able to deal more successfully with them in future encounters.
3. Feel their Pain: Elicit and acknowledge the other person’s feelings in the situation of conflict. Remember, they likely are protecting themselves by this behaviour which is the result of some previous painful experience.
4. Challenge their Perceptions: Try to have a discussion of each other’s perceptions of the situation and then you can look for opportunities to alter those perceptions.
5. Reconcile their Interests: Focus on each person’s needs, desires, concerns, and fears. Reconciling interests rather than positions can help you work toward a possible resolution.
6. Focus on the Problem, Not the Person: Work hard to understand what the actual problem is and then try to generate possibilities for resolving it. Try not to make assumptions about their behavior. Instead, be respectful and empathetic as you listen carefully to the problem.
7. Reduce Reactivity: When faced with a difficult person we often react quickly. Instead, take the time to think and focused on identifying the real needs and interests of the other person as well as yourself. Take a deep breath and count to ten before engaging. This does not make the problem go away, however it will increase the oxygen levels of your brain which increases rational thought….your ability to problem solve effectively.
8. Use Conflict as a Resource: Conflict can be a first step in improving your communication skills, in solving a problem, and even in building trust and cooperation. Avoiding conflict can be much more destructive in the workplace as it can possibly escalate into something bigger, so better to face it and deal with it appropriately in a timely manner.
9. Practice Direct Communication: Try to use “I” statements and be clear about points of agreement. Use appropriate body language to show support and attention. Ask powerful problem-solving questions.
10. Create a Future Focus: Don’t promote your ideas but engage in a collaborative conflict resolution conversation.  This requires that you practice active listening and show respect to the other person’s ideas, concerns, and approaches….even if they are being difficult.[/message][su_spacer]

Listening to and showing respect for the people you work can greatly increase the happiness factor in your workplace. It is a good idea to focus on creating a fear-free, honest, open, down-to-earth work environment that fosters creativity, productivity, and engagement. Try to see reality clearly, but choose to address it positively. Espouse a positive attitude that allows you to perceive opportunities, not obstacles. Lead with values, optimism, and fairness. Always employ honest, open, clear, and impactful communication strategies.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I able to resolve conflict with difficult people?” Emotionally and socially intelligent people have learned to improve and exercise their ability to influence others in appropriate, beneficial ways.

Always remember, difficult people have built their particular “armour” of behaviour due to some past experience that you likely know nothing about. Most of them are fearful of losing control of a situation that may cause the experience to be repeated for them. In addition, many are not good at problem solving and this can be frustrating and difficult to deal with as well. The better you are at listening actively, showing support, encouragement and empathy, the better chance you will have of gaining their trust and working with them to resolve the conflict or problem you both face.

Finally, sometimes, no matter how hard you try to work with a difficult person, you may not “win”. Remember, it is not “about you”, it is about them and you can only try to help them, they may not want to be helped and you cannot make people do things they do not want to do! So just listen well, be patient and try your best!


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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  1. Difficult people create difficulties, embarrassments and tension, pose awkward problems to overcome. My thinking has always been that there are no absolute difficult people, but people with whom you need to learn to deal. Before thinking about how to deal with difficult people, you have to be self-critical. After that, the first rule is to confront without putting things personally. Individuals have different experiences, have received education and instruction different, see things differently, have different ambitions and motivations. Also it is important to establish what compromises we may get fine, and do not forget that there are emotions so-called “of return”, or how we feel after we have responded with anger, blame or submission to the challenges of a difficult person. The risk, in fact, fall into that range of feelings ranging from feeling guilty to stressed or resentful.

    • Hi Aldo, you, as usual, are certainly correct with your comments on this “thorny” topic. Yes, it is not about us but only becomes about us if we deal with them inappropriately. We usually have no idea what has caused their difficulties or what the triggers are. However, staying respectful, calm and honest can help… may not work, but is a good place to start. Reacting with anger, resentment and other emotions will not result in a good outcome and will only exacerbate the situation. Sometimes, just letting them vent may be helpful. We absolutely need to remember that it is not about us, but if we react negatively we will only contribute to more difficulties.

  2. Interesting point, Chris. Sure sometimes we just don’t connect with people or they with us and in that case, there indeed may be nothing we can do.
    However, you could be surprised. One of my friends, and she is still my friend today, that is how we started out…we met in Grade & she immediately disliked me. So at that age, you obviously dislike her back. However, as we were in the same class and many classed together, in the end, we actually got to know one another, and found that we did enjoy many of the same things and got over our initial impressions and dislike.
    I am not saying that will always happen however, sometimes we can find a way to “fix” something if we put on a positive attitude and try another approach.
    Finally, as you said, and I mentioned in the article, sometimes we just cannot win and then we have to accept that.
    I wish you success in all you do and thank you for taking the time to read the article.

  3. With the sheer numbers of people we all work with, it’s likely we’ll run into people that just don’t like us. It may be someone we remind them of, it may be we just disagree with their position, or it may be they just don’t like us.

    We are indoctrinated into the delusion that we are rational creatures, so when we don’t like someone, we rationalize and manufacture a narrative for why. And usually we demonize the other person in the process with fictitious facts.

    There is no correct way on how to handle this situation.

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