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Dealing with Difficult People

Updated on March 22, 2013

The Art of Dealing with Difficult People

Most of us face the challenge of dealing with difficult people in at least one or two areas of our lives. Work and family are two of the most populated territories, for difficult people. ;)

I'm going to share with you here, a few tips for dealing with the difficult people in your life - how to pre-empt and prepare before you arrive in the person's presence, and how to handle the situation once you're there. These are techniques I've found really effective in dealing with difficult people, and I hope they help you too! :)

The Worst Kind of Difficult Person...

The Worst Difficult Person is:

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1. Come Prepared!

The Art of Pre-paving...

Whatever your circumstances, find some time for yourself before you enter the "fray"... before you go anywhere near the fray... when you can be alone, and prepare yourself using one or more of the methods below.

The object is to "pre-pave" - to get yourself into a state of mind that is strong, relaxed and infallible! Think of it as donning your armour.

Armour Options: (Feel free to use as many pieces as you like, and in whatever combination you think most effective!)

* On waking in the morning, spend the first few minutes lying in bed, imagining yourself bathed in sunlight, and see that sunlight radiating out to all the people you'll be coming into contact with that day. Enjoy the feeling. When doubts pop into your head (and they may well do so), remind yourself you're allowed to day-dream.

* With your morning coffee or tea, spend some time watching or reading something that makes you laugh out loud - a sit-com, a YouTube video, a book or blog that you find hilarious... whatever tickles your laughing bits :)

* Write a letter to each of the difficult people in your life - make it as graphic and explosive and insulting as you like, they're not going to see it. Make sure you say everything that's in your head - use ALL CAPS if you like, and lots of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And question marks?????? It's remarkably satisfying. Get it all said, and pretend they're going to read it (the subconscious is quite easy to fool this way). Read it through, and imagine that person reading it. Once you've finished, put it away, then come back later and read it again.

Once you feel you've finished with it, if it's on paper you could ceremoniously tear it up or burn it. If it's on computer, you can delete it. I know this may not seem like much, but it is incredibly powerful! I resisted doing this myself for months before I finally tried it, and I was amazed at the results!

2. Your Secret Weapon

Don't forget this one - it's the most potent weapon you have!

Just before you enter a situation where you'll be facing one or more difficult people, draw your sword - no harm in having it handy, just in case: Just before you go in, think back to that funny video you watched, or funny piece you read this morning, and see if you can keep it as a backdrop throughout your encounter with the difficult person. It takes practice, but it's perfectly possible, and it gets easier and easier the more you do it!


3. Hold Your Axe at Their Throat, Just in Case....

If you think about it, you know this person is difficult, so it's best to be wary and hold an axe to their throat just in case they make a move. Now... this is going to sound naff at first, but bare with me and it'll all make sense in a bit... hopefully.... ;)

Listening is your axe. I know, it doesn't sound like an axe, but it's subtle, and sneaky. Difficult people are generally used to meeting resistance. Listening usually completely throws them! It's like you're holding an axe to their throat because while you're listening, you're on guard, and you're protected. It's difficult to move forward and attack when someone has an axe to your throat.... and it's difficult to argue with someone who's just listening to you.. it kinda takes the wind out of your sails. Of course, your axe is invisible - which is why it's so brilliant, they can't move forward.. but they don't know why ;)

Now, holding an axe isn't as tiring as it may sound. Listening can be much easier than you think. And it's certainly less taxing than engaging in debate - holding an axe to someone's throat is a lot less demanding than combat.

A Few Tips for Listening to Difficult People:

* Imagine them naked. Okay, this is an old trick for performers and speakers, but it works just as well for listeners! ;)

* Think of yourself as a spy - and this bit is actually not as far-fetched as it might sound - the information you glean from listening to them is going to equip you better for any counter-attack that may be necessary later.

* Listening to a person can also equip you to manipulate them once it's your turn to speak. So pay attention, and take the dagger they're handing you... so naively. ;)

* Pretend this is a character in a TV drama or soap that you're listening to. Admire their performance.

Useful Reminder:

How others treat you...

is their karma.

How you react...

is yours.

As my sister used to say: "Keep your eyes on your own work." - In other words, focus more on enjoying your own life than looking at what others are doing. There are times when this is easier said than done of course. ;)

Further Armour, Weaponry and Training for Your Arsenal

Coping with Difficult People: The Proven-Effective Battle Plan That Has Helped Millions Deal with the Troublemakers in Their Lives at Home and at Work
Coping with Difficult People: The Proven-Effective Battle Plan That Has Helped Millions Deal with the Troublemakers in Their Lives at Home and at Work

This is a great tool which comes highly recommended. Dr. Bramson shares (based on his 14 years of research and observation) how to identify the category of difficult person you're dealing with - and a clear, consise recipe for how to get the result you want from that person. He details how to stand up to anyone, without fighting; how to get the reluctant to talk, how to deal with stallers, bulldozers and snipers - and even how to move a complainer into problem-solving mode! Through his 6 basic steps, you can cope with just about anyone. :)


4. Use the Foot-Sweep

This is a bit sneaky, but it's generally necessary - and it works brilliantly. Acknowledge what they've said. Use words like "I see, yes, I understand what you're saying." and "That must have been difficult." ... and so on. Make sure you don't trip up by using a "but" - using a "but" is like doing a slow-motion foot-sweep - they'll simply lift their foot out of the way and bang, you're into full combat. Lull them into a sense of security by fully and unreservedly acknowledging what they've just said. This will disarm them completely. Then you can simply sneeze and they'll fall over.


5. Blowing Them Over...

You have now reached the point where you're strong, in full armour and therefore fully protected (you've arrived in a good mood because of the preparation you've done earlier); you've prevented any initial attack by holding your axe to their throat (they've had nothing to fight against as you've listened); you're armed with information you may be able to use later if necessary, having listened to them; and you've used the foot-sweep to disarm them - throwing them off-guard by acknowledging what they've said.

It's amazing how empowering all of this is - it may not sound like it, but try it and you'll see, there's nothing more empowering than not engaging, but observing. It's placing your hand on the forehead of a small child, holding them at your arm's length as they try, in vain, to punch you. Very satisfying indeed... not to mention entertaining. It can also be like watching TV - especially if you provide yourself with snacks.

Now you're ready to blow them over. Considering they're now unarmed, and having exhausted their repitoire, blowing them over is going to take less effort than blowing out a birthday cake candle (just the one). Depending on the person, the situation and the topic at hand, there are several options for blowing them over. Pick the one that you think best fits the scenario at the time.

* Smile and say "Gosh, I'm so sorry to hear that - hey have you tried the punch?" (this would of course be appropriate at a party where they are serving punch... it would just be a bit weird - although possibly still effective - if you used it at, say... a staff meeting).

* Look thoughtful and say something like: "Hmm. I'll have to take some time to digest that." or "You know, you've really got me thinking now." - Then wander off ... wondering... ;)

* Laugh. This works in many scenarios... but can backfire in some, so use it with caution.

Force vs Cunning... Which Method do You Prefer?

Would you rather confront someone? Do you find it difficult to just relax and "let it go"... or do you enjoy the private knowledge that the difficult person is completely misled and has no idea that you're just "going with the flow"?

I like to focus on my own reaction when possible - and to not get caught up in a battle

Tip for Dealing with Insulting People

I've used this very successfully many times. It works like magic - especially with insults and snide remarks, but can be used in other situations as well:

Take what they've said as a joke - even though you know they didn't mean it that way. It completely throws them! I don't mean laugh out loud, just smile and "heh heh" - a sort of polite acknowledgement of their attempt at humor.

But it must come across as genuine for full effect. They must believe you really think they were joking. :)

How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds - Gift for Difficult People
How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds - Gift for Difficult People

The Perfect Gift for the Difficult Person in Your Life...

Here's the ideal gift for those difficult people in your life - "How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds" - it's useful... and hey, if it works, it's win-win all round! ;)

You might want to give it anonymously though.... the hint behind it is not subtle. Perhaps you could make it from "Santa"....

Other ways to give this gift:

* Mail it with a card telling them they've won a prize.

* Be reading it yourself, then "accidently" leave it behind.

* Be honest, wrap it up with a big bow and a card that says "Saw this and thought of you."

I don't need Anger Management. I just need people to stop p***ing me off!
I don't need Anger Management. I just need people to stop p***ing me off!

A Quiet Hint... to Subtley Get Your Point Across.. ;)

This t-shirt and mug can serve as gentle reminders to the difficult people in your life.

What is Your Most Effective Method for Dealing with Difficult People?

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    • SimonJay profile image


      4 years ago

      Interesting tips i have difficult people at work and was looking here for some tips in dealing with these annoying self centered individuals.

    • KReneeC profile image


      6 years ago

      Regardless of how much they bother you, I have found that telling them in a mature and calm way, instead of being insulting and hostile, is always better. And when I'm done saying what I want to say, that's it. If that person begins getting defensive and hostile, I let them know I'm done with them and blow them off. One less person to give a Christmas card to! I don't have the time in my life for drama or irritating people so I easily forget all about them and move on. Life is so much less stressful that way!

    • TimothyArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 

      6 years ago from Chicago area

      Unfortunately, I don't find there is any easy, pat answer for dealing with difficult people. I have read more than one book on the subject, and they all fail to give the whole answer. Remember that the difficult person has had his or her whole life to learn to be difficult, so they're experts at what they do! Also, we who have to deal with them may actually have many difficult people in our lives, each of which requires a different handling strategy.

    • TimothyArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 

      6 years ago from Chicago area

      I believe that the critic is the worst (and probably the most common) kind of difficult person. If someone is rude or spiteful or whiny, it will make THEM look bad instead of you. But if they are a critic, they can hide behind the pretense that they were just trying to make you a better person or worker or whatever.

    • tlc1210 lm profile image

      tlc1210 lm 

      6 years ago

      Love this lens! I am the epitome of patience when it comes to dealing with rude people. However there are times i would love to let loose. Maybe i will get them the book listed above! lol

    • niceman91 lm profile image

      niceman91 lm 

      6 years ago

      Personally I usually use your point of "Hold Your Axe at Their Throat" as my method to deal with difficult person :)

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 

      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Nicely done! Blessed!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Imagining myself beating them up.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Remembering they can't make me feel any particular way but they certainly will let me. I love something that Joyce Meyer says, "I think I'm right, but I could be wrong."; simply disarming! Delightfully and brilliantly done!

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 

      6 years ago

      Avoidance is how I deal with negative folks. Super lens on dealing with difficult people, many thanks!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I have had to deal with many difficult people during the course of my work advising people, but some of the most difficult are the people nearest and dearest to me. I'm no angel, either, though people who knew me through work thought I was very calm and peaceful, because I laugh and smile a lot. It does deflect quite a few arrows.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      I think the most difficult know it alls are people who claim to know everything, bu don't.

    • Mistl profile image


      6 years ago

      Great advice, thanks for putting this lens together! :)

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      6 years ago from United States

      Truly excellent advice! I shall try to remember it over the next month of company :)

    • fionajean profile image


      6 years ago from South Africa

      I amuse myself by remembering that they will die young because of a heart attack, etc.

    • delia-delia profile image


      6 years ago

      I have dealt with two spasifice difficult people for many years and one day decided it was not going to affect me and I now just ignore whatever is said by not responding but only saying "that's interesting" it works for me...why waste this energy on someone that has these difficult problems that they pass on to you. I think sometimes you actually bring it on to yourself when you acknowledge that person...they like a good fight.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 

      6 years ago from California

      You have a lot of good info here...and I love the Karma quote, "How others treat you...

      is their karma.How you yours." Also your point on using humor is so right is a great tool for diffusing a situation. *Blessed*

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Blessings are wonderful- jave one on me, too:)


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