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20 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

Updated on December 10, 2010

 We all have to deal with difficult people in our lives on a regular or semi-regular basis. We have to work with co-workers who are grumpy and antagonistic. We have to deal with teenagers or elderly people in our lives who are frustrated with the limitations of their stage in life and who are difficult because of it. We have to deal with spouses and friends who react emotionally to situations and who cause us difficulty because of that. Handling each of these different situations requires a different approach depending on your relationship with the person and the type of personality that the person has. However, there are some tips that you can learn to use to deal with any of these different types of difficult people in a way that makes the situation easier for yourself.

Here is a look at 20 top tips for dealing with difficult people so that you can stay sane!

1. Get in touch with yourself. The better that you know yourself, the less likely it is that you’re going to react to the negative people in your life. This grounding of the self inside of your own center will come in handy no matter what difficult person you’re dealing with or what the situation is like.

2. Learn to spot the problems in advance. Anytime that you’re dealing with the same difficult people again and again, you can begin to notice signs and patterns that indicate that a difficult time is coming. This will allow you to prepare for the best way to deal with the situation.

3. Refuse to engage in arguments. It takes two people to argue so learning how to simply disengage from the argumentative situation will be a great tool for many of the difficult times that you encounter with others.

4. Smile freely. Although it will annoy some people that you’re so happy, most people are going to find it less easy to be difficult if you’re smiling and being kind to them.

5. Pick your battles. You may need to engage in disagreements with difficult people from time to time but be smart about picking your battles so that you’re only getting into heated situations when it’s actually worth it to you.

6. Recognize and honor the differences between the two of you. Many of our issues with difficult people come from the fact that they have very different beliefs from us or very different ways of communicating. Look for what those differences are and then honor them in your mind. Cherish what makes you unique from them.

7. Respect others in spite of your differences and problems. A key thing to remember in dealing with all negative people is that it’s important to try to respect everyone’s right too be who they are. Treat them in a respectful manner even when you don’t feel like it. Eventually they will likely return this respect.

8. Learn to set boundaries. Although you should respect others, you should also demand that they respect you. You don’t do this by asking them to but instead by creating healthy boundaries in all situations so that they can’t infringe upon you unfairly.

9. Create more fun times. The more positive times that you can share with difficult people, the less difficult that they will be. Plan fun dates with your spouse during which time you don’t discuss your problems. Invite your nasty co-worker out to lunch. Infuse life with fun; it’s contagious.

10. Ask yourself why these people are being difficult. Having insight into the emotions behind the difficulty will make you more tolerant of others. Put yourself into their shoes and see what’s causing them to act so nasty.

11. Refuse to be defensive. Many of the things that come across as someone being difficult are really more neutral than we imagine. We just tend to take things personally and blow things out of proportion. Refuse to assume that their issue has anything to do with you unless you’re told otherwise.

12. Ask how you can help. When someone does blame you or attack you for something, simply ask what you can do to change the situation. Their request may be fair or they may find that they don’t even have a request. Either way, you’ve put the ball in their court and asked them to come up with a solution to their own problems.

13. Don’t gossip or complain about the person. We often gripe about the difficult people in our lives with others. Unless you’re truly discussing the situation with an eye towards finding a solution to the problem, all that you’re likely doing is getting yourself worked up and creating more negativity around the situation. Stop doing that and you’ll find that some of the bad feelings dissipate.

14. Check your own emotions. Check in with yourself and find out what’s going on for you as you deal with difficult people. Don’t react to them. Instead, take some time to journal or process what’s going on with you so that you can approach them calmly.

15. Improve your own communication skills. The better that we get at articulating what’s going on with us, the easier it’s going to be to deal with difficult people.

16. Learn basic tips for dealing with specific groups of people. Teachers working with difficult teens, foster parents dealing with angry kids, spouses who are going through a tough time because of a job loss … these people should all locate specific resources for dealing with the difficult situation at hand.

17. Brainstorm solutions to the problem. Get creative with your own list of ways to resolve each specific situation or negative relationship. Make a list and see what works. Ask yourself what you can do to change things. Keep on trying to come up with better solutions.

18. Don’t assume that your way is the right way. Even if you come up with great solutions, remain open to the possibility that you don’t know everything and consider the input of the difficult person as well.

19. Walk away. In many cases, there may not be an easy solution to an immediate situation with a difficult person but if you’re in a position to walk away then you can at least get a break from the intensity of the situation.

20. Let go of grudges. Many of us hang on to grudges towards the people that have been difficult in the past. This makes it hard to move on to a better relationship with them in the future. Learn to forgive and let go and work from this point forward.


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