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Skill Tips - Dealing With Difficult People

Updated on August 28, 2012

A Learned Behavior

We all have our bad days where we may act unpleasant with our family, friends or co-workers but this is not our everyday personality. However, a surprising 5% of the population are considered to be unpleasant or difficult most of the time. This percentage means that you will most likely encounter a difficult person at home, work, socially or just about anywhere.

There are many types of negative personality traits that over a period of time can make us feel angry, frustrated, embarrassed and demoralized. Half of your day, everyday, could be spent trying to deal with the issues and problems caused by this one person if you allow it.

Keep in mind that these behaviors have usually been learned and perfected over a period of time as an effective way to manipulate those around them. No matter what the negative behavior traits are, this person will not only cause you misery but will wear you out if you let them.

The key to not letting this happen is to identify the basic difficult personality types and to have an understanding of what makes them tick. Understanding is half the battle. Once you learn the coping and managing skills, you will have more ability to get through the day relatively unscathed from those negative encounters.

Understanding the "Why" of the Behavior

Why are chronically difficult people this way? Although this article won't get in too deep on the psychological aspects of personality disorders, there are some very general characteristics all difficult people have in common. They are unhappy, insecure and have very low self-esteem. The more serious behaviors are those with the above traits with some anger and aggression mixed in.

They are very insecure and find a sense of security when they are able to manipulate those around them. These negative traits may usually be seen developing in childhood. Due to their lack of self esteem, they are unable to feel in control of their environment and cause havoc all around.

The key component of staying in control during an encounter is understanding. With knowledge and understanding comes the ability to apply the coping and managing skills necessary to remain calm, cool and collected while maintaining control of the situation.

The Dictator


Identifying Difficult Personality Types

The Chronic Complainer - Nothing is ever right with them and they are always gripping about everybody and everything. They much prefer to complain rather than being a part of and finding solutions.

The Know-It-All - They are usually arrogant and very self-opinionated. They really do not wish to hear anything anyone else has to say nor are the interested in anyone else's opinion. If they are challenged and stand corrected, they get very defensive even to the point of anger and aggression.

The Bully - Will belittle others and use different tactics of intimidation to manipulate others to get their way. The tactics may be those of hostility, threats, physical altercations and causing embarrassment to their victims.

The Dictator - They want to call all the shots and be in charge of everyone and everything. They are usually self absorbed and speak more than listen. They are not interested in any opinions that vary from what they think. They are usually brutally critical of any work or decisions made by anyone else.

The Passive - They never speak up or give opinions. They do not ever offer to share ideas and they are brutally indirect so you never know what they are thinking or where they stand.

The "Yes" People - They agree with everyone about everything; even if the don't. They agree to every commitment but usually can never deliver as promised. You can't trust them to follow-through.

The "No" People - Will always point out why something will not work. They will not agree with anyone about anything but are always the first to vocally criticize. They are usually very inflexible.

Coping and Managing Tips

The Chronic Complainer - When dealing with a chronic complainer always shorten your encounter with them. Be very specific in your communication and immediately verbalize and limit what their choices are:

  1. Do they want you to just listen to them, if so, set a time limit such as 4 minutes. Let them complain or vent and then be firm with them to move on.
  2. Are they looking for a solution from you, if so, be specific, clear and control the conversation not letting them find something else to complain about. Use firmness.

The Know-It-All - Save yourself from ware and tear by never arguing or trying to correct them. They will wear you down and you will never win. A coping skill is to "parrot" them. Whatever they say to you just paraphrase it and repeat it back to them. It tuns the table and they tire of it. An example would be, "if I understand you correctly, you said I should have added that to my presentation?" Sometimes when they hear and understand what they just said, they will try to clarify and back off.

The Bully - Always keep your composure when dealing with a bully. Keep everything as vague as possible and keep your answers short. Use any excuse to cut all exposure short. Project confidence with silence. Bullies are attention mongers. If they simply cannot engage or enrage you, they usually get bored. Simple pure confidence in yourself will usually throw a bully off guard. Sometimes you must seek outside intervention if there is any threat to your person.

The Dictator - This is their problem so do not make it yours. Don't fight or argue with them as you have the choice not to play their game. If you try to argue with them; they will win by simply wearing you down. Make it very clear where you stand.

The Passive - Be very clear and insist on whatever specific thing it is you need from them. Make it a point to initiate the conversation but force them to participate.

The "Yes" People - You may have to remind these people of their obligations and commitments. You must make sure that they have the capability to follow-through with commitments they have made. Be firm and let them know they are responsible for their actions or lack thereof.

The" No "People - Do not give them choices as they are infexible so it is best to lay down the rules. In all conversations be very specific. Keep the conversation short and to the point not allowing them the opportunity to argue or express negativity. As will most disfunctional behaviors, by engaging in an argument with them will only wear you out. Do not let them put you in that position.

Take a Deep Breath - Think a Happy Thought


In general, you must know what battles are worth fighting and when you should just let go. Never lose your composure with these personality types and do not allow them to draw you in; that is what they want. You have the ability to control that. Know to what degree you want to confront this person based on how important, or not, they are in your life. Always be specific about consequences and always follow through. Do not let the negative encounter bring you down.

Create a way to remain feeling positive about the rest of your day. Unhappy people want others to feel as unhappy as they do. You have the ability to control how you react to the situation. Take a minute or two to take a few deep breaths and find something to make you smile, confront the difficult person and situation head on with confidence and move on with your day.


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    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      5 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Wow!!!! This is a on-target article that should be read by virtually everyone. In that I worked in special education for three decades and am now old and wise in my retirement, I can see that I was aware of all of these types of people and dealt with them pretty much as you suggest.

      I did assist Amara in writing her childhood story of abuse and see that your childhood was less than perfect too. If you ever want to borrow a book or novel, write me and I'll get one off to you.

    • sarahshuihan profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      I totally agree with what you wrote about picking your battles. It doesn't help you any better if you wear yourself out with these types of people. Great article.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Great hub. It is difficult to deal with these people and I know quite a few (one a long-gone ex!) as well as encountering a few in general life. Staying positive is the key point, I think. Great advice and well presented. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • TravelAbout profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from United States


      I grew up with difficult people too. I just hid in my room as much as I could to avoid them but growing up in that environment makes you strong and accutely aware of how to deal with difficult personalities. I didn't let the difficult ones at work get to me. I had no fear, was confident, fair in my dealings with them but was firm. If they tried to drag me in I simply refused to play their game.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I will definitely visit your profile and see what you write about. Cheers!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      This is an excellent hub because you not only list the types of difficult people, you actually pose helpful methods of coping with each while keeping one's sanity.

      In my lifetime, I've encountered most of the types, but (like Paula) I limited the stress they were allowed to impose on my life. It's much easier to avoid the difficult people after retirement!

      Good hub. Voted Up, Useful and Interesting.


    • TravelAbout profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from United States

      fpheri48...No never in mental health field. Grew up in a home with mental and emotional stuff from father and mother. I think the entire 5% of the difficult people made a commitment to just follow me around . LOLO Where you took detours, I did the chuck -n-duck. I can deal with pretty much all types. It's fairly easy when you understand them. But you have to keep the encounters brief. Even as a little third grader a bully constantly picked on me and I warned him for the last time then I took after him and knocked him clean over the desk with him landing on the floor and the desk on top of him. I got in big trouble but he never bothered me again and we ended up friends in high school. I still hold to the theory that the only way to cure a bully is to bully back and hold your ground. Now days, though, it's a whole new ballgame that takes bullying to a whole new level.

      By the way, I love your sense of humor. You are a very funny gal. I'll have to come by and visit to see what's new. You and Billy both crack me up. I love it! Thanks for sharing my hub and for your humor that brings a chuckle. I appreciate that and envy your talent of writing as you do.

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 

      6 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      I learned a great deal from the difficult people i grew up around. I think people that live with them don't speak up often enough to prevent rocking the boat. They do cause a lot more stress on themselves and for the people closest to them. It is good to see some tips for all of that. Great hub.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      Amy DeMarco 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      This is absolutely excellent and very helpful! I have to deal with many difficult people (bullies and know it alls especially). I will try these tips. Thank you so much!!! Will also be sharing as well!!

    • fpherj48 profile image


      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Katheryn....I had to run over to your profile page to see if you are in the mental health field too......I didn't see anything within your bio, but I included no info in mine either....have been retired for 10 years. (besides...people ask tons of questions)

      DAMN girl, you sure wrote an amazing hub ....describing "difficult" people so well and stressing ways to cope with each different type of this not-so-enjoyable group of pains in the ash.

      Unfortunately when we absolutely HAVE to deal with one or two, here and there, we truly need to learn the skills, for our own sanity and peace of mind......but whenever possible.....I will avoid them like the plague and take detours. Over the years, it made me quite sad, but I literally had no choice but to back away from a friend or 3

      .......2 were unbearable Chronic Complainers/Negative thinker/Pessimists...and one was a classic Passive- Aggressive Manipulator. When we reach the point of totally dreading their presence, it's time to walk away. Well, actually, we don't have to walk away...we can always take them for a one way ride to the mountains.....

      I simply LOVE this hub and will share it......EXCELLENT.

    • TravelAbout profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from United States

      Billy...I have read your latest, but haven't commented as yet! Bank of America and their 9 lawyers keep me quite busy. LOL I looked for your book you suggested but I didn't see it. I need something funny tomorrow as I work on the legal crapola. Sounds like you had a great Dad. You were lucky. Isn't a shame how a whole family could go to a baseball game back in the day. Now you have to be in the 1% to afford the tickets. Oh dear...I'm getting started again. Yes, the 5% surprised me too. I have had the luck of the draw and all 5% have been at each of my workplaces. Who can figure? Please let me know how to get the book :) Your friend...Katheryn

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Only 5%? Really? I would have sworn it was a higher percentage. LOL Or am I complaining when I write that?

      Wow! Great suggestions! I really need to keep these in mind when I run into these people ON A DAILY BASIS!!!!

      Great job my friend!


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