Tips For Coping With Difficult People

In our everyday lives, you are very likely to encounter difficult people. Therefore, it is best to have some coping strategies that will help you with those encounters. Here are some ideas you can try.

A good coping plan includes the following options:

  • Try to put some distance between you and the behaviour. This will help you to think more clearly and gain some perspective on the situation.
  • Categorize the difficult person’s behaviour. This will help to distance you, as well as give you a starting point from which to formulate an appropriate plan of action.
  • Understand the person’s point of view. What behaviours keep others off balance and get the individual the desired results? Picture how it looks to that person and then you will have more insight on where they are coming from.
  • Change your part of the interaction. Remember, you always have control over what you say or do. If you feel you may have hit a particular trigger for this sort of reaction, in future, you can try to avoid doing that.
  • You need to prepare! Practice your strategy before confronting the person. Using a friend for role-playing and feedback is best. In addition, if you have prepared, you will feel better able to cope with this difficult person and perhaps even get a different and better outcome.
  • Timing is important. Select a time to confront the person when you both have ample time and energy. Preferably not immediately following a difficult situation. However, do not wait too long or the person may not recall the issue as you have which could just cause another situation to arise.
  • Choose coping techniques that are appropriate for each specific difficult behaviour. For example, with hostile or aggressive types you need to stand up for yourself without getting into a head-to-head fight.
  • With a complainer, you need to listen attentively and then move to problem-solving quickly, and with a know-it-all expert, you need to get them to consider alternative views (so do your homework) while avoiding direct challenges to their expertise.
  • Monitor the progress. Is your plan working? Or do you need to make adjustments? Should you try to set up periodic meetings to air bothersome topics while they are still small and manageable? By monitoring the progress you will note if a different tactic will be necessary or if you now know the best ways to handle this difficult person.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, your attempts at coping will not produce the desired results. That is because we truly cannot make people do things they do not want to do and sometimes you just are not going to win with a difficult person who just wants to stay difficult.

Then the choice you face is either to get as much distance as practical from the difficult person (walk away, seek a transfer, move, get a divorce, find a new friend, align yourself with others at work) or stay in the relationship the way it is. In choosing the latter, you are no longer a passive victim. Your tension and anger will subside and, until your needs can be met in other ways, you are actively choosing to stay.


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. There can be four reasons why you have difficulty working with a person.

    1. Does the person remind you of someone in the past? Was this a person you liked or hated?

    2. Do you remind the person of someone in their past? Was this someone they liked or hated?

    3. Are you two cut from the same cloth? or are very different?

    4. How much skin do each of you have in the game?

    Answering each of these questions will get you on the same page with the other person. There will still be difficulties, but they can worked through.

    • Hi Chris,
      I like your approach, it is simple & straight forward. Those are certainly important questions to ask when faced with a difficult person.
      One must still remember, that no matter what, we cannot make people do what they do not want to do and sometimes we are not going to “win” with some of these people. Having said that we have nothing to lose if we at least try and often we can overcome the issue with an open mind and sympathetic ear, as well as lots of understanding and honesty. Thanks so much for your input!

    • Hi Chris, Not sure why your comments got posted twice, but in any event it is a simple & practical approach so thanks for sharing it. One should certainly try to see the other person’s perspective and try to resolve the situation as it will never go away by itself. Understanding where another person is coming from can certainly be helpful in resolving difficulties.

  2. How one deals with this issue depends a lot on who the difficult person is and your relationship with him/her. If that person is your employee you can simply replace the problem person. Of course if a peer, neighbor, or relative it becomes a bit more difficult.

    True, one can not always change another person’s behavior and walking away from the issue isn’t always practical. Sometimes you simply have to sit the person down and say, “We have a problem here, how are we going to resolve it?” Unpleasant of course but it will never get resolved if it isn’t brought out into the light and discussed. In that process one must also be willing to make changes themselves, as you note. It is possible that you are doing/saying something to trigger the negative reactions.

    • Hi Ken,
      Thank you for you insights….you are correct that it has to be dealt with as it does not go away on its own. Many people are afraid to have difficult and “fierce” conversations so they are the ones walking around with the “stomach ache”. That is why, I totally agree with you that one must address the situation and try your best to resolve it. However, sadly, some people just seem to like to be difficult and if we cannot induce them to alter their behavior other solutions that make us “happier” need to be considered. You are also correct in noting that it depends on the “power” you have what can ultimately be done about a difficult person. Maybe the situation needs to be brought to the attention of HR or the manager so that they can deal with it more appropriately. Nonetheless, if the difficult person is a customer or client, we need to be proactive in finding a way to make them happy….not a simple fix!