Dealing With Difficult People

So often we are told to ‘avoid difficult people’ or those that ‘bring us down’ in order to be happy. In fact, that is advice I have given readers in the past. Unfortunately, this is not always an option…

What happens when you can’t avoid the difficult people in your life?
What if walking away is not an option?

Whether it is your co-worker, your neighbor, your child or your spouse, sometimes you have no choice but to deal with difficult people. These challenging relationships can cause stress, anxiety, and tension. If you deal with difficult people regularly you know that things can quickly escalate and destroy your mood in minutes.Trump Difficult People

There are those rare gems that have a nefarious power and unique ability to sabotage your happiness without even being in the room. There are also some people who are just Debbie Downers and because they are unhappy they feel the need to make everyone around them unhappy as well… Difficult people come in many forms. They may be gloomy, grumpy, accusing or even aggressive… Whatever the type of difficult person you have to deal with, it takes its toll over time.

Thankfully, there are tips for dealing with difficult people who will make it easier on your emotions and will promote more effective communication. Below are 10 tips to help you defuse any situation and effectively deal with difficult people.

How to deal with difficult people:

Listen And Provide Validation.

It can be tempting to tune out difficult people but it will rarely stop them from being difficult. In fact, they will probably just take another (often louder) approach. Instead of tuning out difficult people take the time to listen to what they have to say and validate their feelings.

Sometimes, just knowing someone is listening is enough to soothe the situation. Making the difficult person’s emotions significant is the fastest way to more forward. You do not have to agree with what they are saying but it is important to understand that they have a right to feel the way that they do. Try to listen and truly understand why it is they are saying the things that they are.

Have An End Goal.

Knowing where you hope to end up is helpful when dealing with anyone, especially difficult people. Before you even begin to attempt communication with someone you know is difficult, have an end goal in mind. Focus on what you hope to accomplish during the interaction and try to avoid straying off topic.

It can be easy to get caught up in the chaos of difficult people, who often talk circles to get what they want. Stay focused on your goal and steer the conversation back to the issue at hand. If you find the conversation has strayed too far off topic, leave it alone and try again later. Going off on a tangent is not going to accomplish anything and is only going to prolong achieving any goals.

Pick Your Battles.

We all have those people in our lives who simply put up a fight for everything. This is especially true of the aggressive types of difficult people. It is important that you pick your battles. If you know that something is going to escalate ask yourself if it is worth the battle.

You have two choices in this situation. First, decide if there is another way to get what you want. Second, decide if it is worth the effort.

If the difficult person you are dealing with is the best person for the job then it may be worth the energy of trying to communicate with them to achieve your goal. However, if there is someone else who can get the job done without the hassle it is sometimes better to move on. One example of this is when you are on the phone with an unfriendly customer service rep, hanging up and calling back will often get you the same result without the extra stress. On the other hand, if you are dealing with a difficult co-worker who is the best choice for a particular project then expending the energy might be worth the effort to get the result you need. Consider your end goal and decide whether it is worth fighting for.

Offer Assistance.

One of the quickest ways to defuse a situation and disarm difficult people is to get them into a problem-solving mode. If you find that the difficult person is getting defensive or constantly complaining, ask what you can do to help make the situation easier. By offering to help, you are essentially forcing difficult people to reflect on their behavior.

Chances are, your offer of assistance will catch them off guard and they will be forced to come up with a solution on their own. Be sure to listen to their solution but only follow through with your offer to help if the request is reasonable. Otherwise, you lose credibility and run the risk of reinforcing difficult behavior in the future as a way to avoid work.

Take The Lead.

It is important that you take control when dealing with difficult people. Like schoolyard bullies, difficult people often seek out the easiest targets. Make yourself less vulnerable by exuding confidence in your interactions. This again goes back to knowing your end goal. When you have an objective in mind it is easier to confidently communicate your intentions. It also makes the conversation less personal and helps avoid defensive outbursts.

A common habit of difficult people is to focus attention on others and make them feel uncomfortable. Don’t allow this to happen. Instead, focus on the end goal and steer the conversation back to what needs accomplishing; focusing on why it is important. Strong leaders focus on the goal, not the obstacles.

Exercise Empathy.

One tool for effectively communicating with difficult people is to put yourself in their shoes. When you consider the situation from a different perspective you may find you can better understand the behavior. Perhaps, the difficult person feels like their input is not valuable, maybe they want more responsibility or the chance to share their ideas. Consider where they are coming from before you dismiss their behavior as difficult. Difficult people often act out as a way to gain attention, if you allow them a voice upfront you may find it is easier to effectively communicate in the end.

Set Boundaries.

If dealing with an aggressive, intimidating or difficult person set clear boundaries and consequences, and stick to them. This can be very difficult to do, especially in work related situation. However, it is important to remember that you do not have to tolerate abuse.

When dealing with difficult people, especially one those who are aggressive, make it clear that you will not engage in their behavior. You can do this by simply stating the consequence as a fact. For example, “I want to talk about the issue but I will not do it when you are yelling. We can calmly discuss the issue or I will come back later when things have settled down.” Be sure to follow through on your statement immediately if the situation escalates. When difficult people see that their tactics are not working they tend to change their approach.

Focus On The Facts.

Don’t get carried away or caught up in the unimportant extras and do not allow yourself to get emotionally involved. While it can be hard to avoid feeling frustrated, you can combat this emotion by focusing on the facts. Again, this is the end goal. Rather than allowing the conversation to get personal, stay focused on the topic you are trying to discuss. Use your consequences and avoid placing blame on others, or taking on the blame yourself. When things go off topic, restate your needs and goals. This will help all parties stay focused, will prevent the difficult person from feeling defensive and will limit personal attacks on character that are common habits among difficult people.

Follow The One Thing Rule.

Live by the ‘One Things Rule’. Find one thing you like about the person you are dealing with and focus on that. While this can be hard to do, there is always something good you can focus on. Perhaps you have a co-worker who is aggressive and intimidating but they are the best at data analysis, focus on their talent rather than their attitude. By focusing on one positive thing you are blocking out negativity and inviting more positivity into the interaction. Share your focus by complementing difficult people on their strengths. This often helps defuse a defensive situation and creates a bond that aids in more effective communication.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

It is easy to get caught up in the drama and let it drag you down but it is important that you know your limit. If you are emotionally drained at the thought of having to deal with a difficult person it may be best to avoid doing so. While this is not always possible, it is important that you consider your options. If your spouse is constantly dragging you down, or a family member is consistently negative, limit your interactions or consider cutting them out of your life altogether.

If the difficult person is someone at work, approach management when possible and explain the situation. Stress the impact it is having on your productivity and provide a solution. Often times, management wants to create a more productive workplace and is probably aware of the difficult people within the office. If you give them a solution that will increase productivity they will be more receptive to change.

Again, it is not always possible to avoid difficult people but there comes a point when you simply have to say ‘enough is enough’ and do what is best for you. If the above tips do not help you better communicate with the difficult people in your life then it is time to consider making changes that promote your own best interests.


What are some of the tactics you use to deal with difficult people? 


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