How Do You Deal With Difficult People?

Dealing with difficult people is always a challenge and you must espouse the idea that sometimes no matter what you do, you may not be able to “win” as they may be determined to remain difficult. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to listen actively, be patient, and respectful and at least attempt to deal with them in an appropriate manner and hopefully a way that will make them easier to get along with.

So, here are some common approaches which often do not work very successfully:

  • Do you shut down? Just do not know how to handle them?
  • Do you open your mouth and then regret what you say to them?
  • Does your best line occur to you at 3:00 am?
  • Do you think before you speak or just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head?
  • How do you feel when they speak to you disrespectfully?
  • Do you wonder why are they being difficult?
  • Do you try to choose to be more understanding?
  • Be Assertive! Do it respectfully and calmly, however, let them know that you will not be abused as you are just trying to be helpful.

If you find that the above strategies are the ones you employ most often, you are likely not very successful in dealing with these sometimes rather annoying people.  However, those issues need to be considered and then here are some other options you also may want to try.

Some other Choices….

  • Stay and do nothing, feeling that you are okay, and they are the ones that need professional help
  • Vote with your feet, this may not always be possible as it depends on your position. For example, if you are a customer service person you are going to have to come up with something that allows you to be able to help them so you cannot just walk away.  In addition, if you have to work every day with this person, you will also have to try something more effective than just leaving the office.
  • Change your attitude. This might be a good one, as you can then realize that this is really their problem due to some past experience that has hurt them and this behavior is their way of protecting themselves from being hurt again, it actually has nothing specifically to do with you. Nonetheless, you are faced with dealing with them.
  • Change your behaviour, as you won’t likely be able to change theirs. In other words, listen actively so that you can at least try to determine the problem, then you can offer some help to them and perhaps they will calm down and let you assist them.
  • It is very important to stay patient, respectful, and calm when dealing with a difficult person because if you become upset, too, the situation will escalate and it will become a no win. This is not easy to do, however, with some practice and clear, honest, effective communication techniques you should be able to achieve better outcomes.

Here are a few more things to consider…….sometimes problems arise because these individuals are not good at making decisions or they have not organized their time well and so are looking for someone else to blame.  Because we usually do not know what their triggers are, we can inadvertently set them off.  If you must deal with such a person more than once, perhaps you will learn more about how to avoid their triggers and then you will be better able to manage their upsets more successfully.  Do remember that they likely treat everyone the same, in other words, it is not just you who ends up on the receiving end of one of their tirades, it can be anyone they encounter.

In any event, employing effective communication skills such as active listening, accountability, and assertiveness, and offering help in problem-solving or organizational skills, you will have a far better chance of achieving more win/win outcomes with these sorts of people.  And finally, as I stated at the beginning of this article, even good strategies will not always win and so sometimes you will just have to remain pleasant and realize that you have done your best but they are still difficult.


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 be 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, resentful.

    • Hi Aldo, I completely agree with you… is not about you, it is about them and the sooner we recognize that and then explore possible ways to deal with them more effectively, the sooner we may (emphasis on the word may) have more success with these sorts of people. In some cases, we may not be able to find a successful way to handle them, however, if we do not try, we will never succeed!

    • The employee is considered problematic because it is objectively inefficient. There is a whole series of symptoms that identify a performance problem (low yield, quantity and / or quality of work, missed deadlines, little initiative, postponement of the toughest jobs or increase in complaints, difficulty to respect and / or accept the directives, increased irritability, decreased cooperation, to attribute the blame of mistakes and failures to others, increased absences from their location, frequently received negative feedback from others, deterioration of interpersonal relationships both horizontal vertical, and so on). We must then take action methodologically correct, respectful of corporate values, reporting performance to acceptable levels. But we must first understand and then act. Understanding means making sure that the problematic employee has not to perform work unsuited to its characteristics, which happens much more commonly than you think, especially when employees technically valid are promoted to managerial tasks or positions “institutionally” unpleasant, that involve, on long time, a fall in productive tension, often due to relationship difficulties. Means to analyze the dynamics of the group, which could have a significant weight, resulting in dysfunctional relationships. It means of course to establish that the difficult employee is not living in a private distressing situation which can not but reverberate working efficiency.
      The correct diagnosis of the problem, which should be centered on the behavior and not on the person, it induces the correct therapy: to bring the issue into the open, overcoming misconceptions and misunderstandings; tackling the reasons, which once identified should, as far as possible, removed; agree the basic rules for proper communication between boss and employee, but also between the employee “difficult” and his colleagues, act quickly – but always in a constructive and never punitive way- on the first occurrence of unproductive behavior.