Everyone has to deal with difficult people - often on a daily basis. We find them at work as customers or co-workers; in our family as children, teenagers, parents and spouses. Even our friends can react emotionally to situations. Everyone gets frustrated with the life’s limitations.  We can be difficult to deal with too!

The way you handle it depends largely upon the relationship that you have with that person. Keeping calm and clear headed and staying rational when people are being difficult is easier said than done. Emotions make it tricky. By understanding what motivates people to be difficult can help. Here are a few tips.

1. What do they want?

By being difficult we can get what we are after. This might be being heard, respect, attention, letting off steam, feeling important and valued, being understood or having something made right or fixed. By giving them what they want can satisfy their need and stop the behavior or it may inflame them making it worse.

A genuine request usually ends up well such as a person who is rightfully upset or angry, or a customer with a genuine complaint. If a person is a bully, back stabber or has an axe to grind nothing will satisfy them. Make clear boundaries on the behavior such as,” Mary, stop shouting. Speak to me in a normal tone of voice so that we can sort this out.”

2. Do not take it personally.

Filter out hurtful remarks, attacks and criticism and listen to the facts and other useful information.

Angry people often see their emotions as facts. Use these steps to defuse the situation.

·         Ask – ‘What did I specifically do or say that has upset you?’

·         Let them get it all out (Be calm and do not interrupt)

·         Tell them you appreciate them letting you know.

·         Ask them – ‘What can I do to make it right?’

3. Support yourself

Make sure your self talk supports you. Do not put yourself down or let you get put down.

Self talk “I can handle this well” “I can get through this and it will all work out”

4. Breathe and make space

When we are under threat we often hold our breath. Try to relax. Breathe deeply and give yourself more oxygen to think clearly. Make the space between you comfortable or change position if you need to. You may need to take a break or walk away to diffuse things.

5. Focus on a win/win outcome and be flexible to get it.

 Keep your ego under control. Do not seek to win. Look for a good outcome overall. Do not seek to punish.

6. Listen - acknowledge that you hear them AND understand their point.

Difficult people generally feel unheard, ignored or not valued. They can start shouting use abusive language, over exaggerate and generally get in your face. Show them you are listening – really listening (don’t fake it) by using appropriate responses and body language. When a person feels heard they often settle down.

7. We cannot change another person but we can change their behavior.

You are not trying to fix the person. Deal with the behavior. Their bad behavior is the problem and not them. Make sure they get that message too.

8. Be aware of what you say and how you say it.

Even though it may be really hard to do, be polite, courteous and reasonable. Sometimes silence is Golden. Bite your tongue if you have to.

9.Keep it simple.

Keep your responses clear and simple. Angry and upset people cannot take in much. Difficult people often have less abilities of communication. Keep your tone even, stay calm and say less.

10. Do not give away your power.

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. Some people are just plain difficult. Accept it.

11. Don’t gossip or complain about the person.

Avoid complaining, going on and on about what they said or did unless you’re truly discussing the situation with an eye towards finding a solution to the problem. Getting yourself worked up and creating more negativity around the situation does not help. Stop doing that and you’ll find that some of the bad feelings dissipate.

12. 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.

13. Be real.

Even with the best intentions sometimes we cannot always get it right. Be kind and compassionate with yourself.... your best efforts are the best. Smile.

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
Albert Einstein, The World As I See It