Dealing with difficult people

Got a difficult person you have to deal with? Maybe this will help.

Difficult people can make life and work unpleasant. There are so many types of difficult person – like any of these:


  • Angry, aggressive, abusive, bullying
  • Moody, tired, depressed, teary
  • Uncommitted, unmotivated, uninterested
  • Uncaring, unthinking, selfish
  • Possessive, demanding, clingy
  • Mean, cheats, lies, unethical, steals
  • Unfair, biased, intolerant, racist
  • Loud, rude, doesn’t listen


The problem is that we often react to a difficult person – and the reaction can make matters worse. We might even have these thoughts and reactions to certain people and their difficult behaviour:

  • I can’t help but react
  • He infuriates me
  • I always yell back
  • I just look at her and feel angry
  • I will never get over this
  • She is so unreasonable it makes me sick
  • He is a pathetic *#^&*¥€$@!!!!!!


But all of this is not helpful.


Dealing with difficult behaviour

We need to manage our own emotions and try some of these simple strategies:


  1. Stay calm & observe
  2. Use empathy & be responsive
  3. Focus on facts and tasks, not emotions
  4. Ignore bad behaviours, reward positives
  5. Take person aside – give feedback
  6. Implement changes &/or training
  7. Stick to rules &/or set boundaries
  8. Debrief your stress


It is necessary when confronted with difficult behaviour, to separate the person from their behaviour, in order to deal with it more effectively. Saying that a person is difficult is a bit hard on the person, and doesn’t help move the person to a better place. One of the simplest techniques to learn, that is applicable to a wide range of difficult behaviours, is that of giving feedback.


GIVE FEEDBACK: Dealing with someone who interrupts all the time.

Giving this person feedback is probably the best way to deal with this sort of behaviour. In order to do this, they should be taken aside, somewhere private where you won’t be interrupted. In giving feedback, the following formula is very useful in helping you achieve the desired results:


1. Describe the behaviour by starting with something like, “I’ve noticed that you tend to interrupt…”

2. Explain the consequences, “…it can be annoying because…”

3. Make a request, “It would be good if in the future…”


This may be enough to solve the problem behaviour, and is useful for a wide variety of situations. In taking the responsibility to deal with difficult behaviour, it is important to give people the benefit of the doubt, as it is likely that they are not even aware of the behaviour that you feel is undesirable.



Where someone, a customer for example, is angry or behaving aggressively it is obviously not appropriate to give feedback to this person. There are two basic ways to deal with this kind of behaviour:


1. Try showing empathy – that you can understand they are angry and in the same situation you would also be annoyed. In most situations this will serve to calm the person down. However, trying to show empathy can back-fire, as the person may turn around and say something like, “How could you possibly understand?” A similar and maybe more effective way of showing empathy would be to say something like, “I can see you are angry…” or “I can hear you are angry”.


2. If the person is obviously not going to calm down, the next best thing to do is to exercise a bit of “task-related control”. This means, move to maintaining control, and just focus on getting the task done. Focus on getting results, and realise that there is nothing more that you can do. Importantly, don’t take it personally.

BEING ASSERTIVE: Unsupportive manager or supervisor

For example, your manager is never available when you need him/her, or they empower you, but don’t provide enough resources, etc.


The best way to approach this sort of situation is to make use of what is known as the ‘assertion theory’. This theory is based on the idea that everyone has certain rights… to make requests, to say “no”, and basically stand up for your own rights, whilst respecting those of others.


Often people feel uncomfortable making requests to their managers, because they feel they don’t have the right. They need to challenge this idea, as they certainly do have the right to make requests.




By Eve Ash, psychologist and Managing Director, Seven Dimensions, author of Rewrite Your Relationships and co-producer with Peter Quarry of the Ash.Quarry production – Dealing with Difficult People from the TAKE AWAY TRAINING SERIES


Click here for more Eve Ash blogs



Sayed writes: Just be positive think first reply later.



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