How to Deal With Difficult People

Two Methods:Approaching a Difficult PersonChanging Your Mindset

Difficult people are everywhere. Perhaps you too can be difficult. Many people go through periods where they don't act their best. If you want to maintain a relationship with a difficult person, you will need to develop some coping and negotiation strategies.

Method 1
Approaching a Difficult Person

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    Choose your battles wisely. When butting heads with a difficult person, decide when it is worth your efforts to discuss the problem.[1] Not every fight needs to be fought. The sooner you realize this the happier your life will become. Ideally, you and this difficult person would be able to set aside your differences and compromise. Sometimes, this is impossible.
    • Ask yourself if the situation is causing you enough distress that it must be addressed.
    • Consider your relationship to this person. If it's your boss or another authority figure, you have to accept some things you don't like (unless it's abusive behavior).[2] If it's a friend or family member, think about whether choosing not to engage is enabling bad behavior or simply saving you time and grief.
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    Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath before responding to collect your thoughts and calm your emotions. If your conflict is happening via email or texting, try to avoid sending digital text messages when upset. Take a bit of time to let your stress level decrease. Then you will be able to approach the person more reasonably.[3]
    • If possible, discuss your issue somewhere neutral or in a place with an activity. For example, you could talk while walking. This can limit negative face-to-face interactions.[4]
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    State your needs clearly with assertive communication. Don't give the person the opportunity to manipulate you or twist your words.[5] Aim to use “I” statements rather than “you” accusations. For example:
    • ”I understand that you are frustrated by my lateness. I would feel the same way. Unfortunately, the subway line was down this morning and we were stuck in the station. I am very sorry for making you wait!”
    • Do not say: “You are unreasonable for expecting me to be punctual when the subway system was broken down. If you really cared, you could have googled my line and checked.”
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    Continue being polite. No matter the response of the other person, keep your cool. Do not resort to name-calling. Take breaths before your responses. The key is to not let yourself sink to the other person’s level. Also, the calmer you remain, the more likely the other person will notice and reflect on his or her behavior.[6]
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    Stick to the facts. Keep a short clear narrative that is not bogged down with too much detail or emotion. It is very possible you won’t be able to get the person to see your point of view and you don’t need to try to convince them. State what happened and don't feel you need to explain yourself.[7]
    • Avoid trigger topics.[8] For example, if you always fight about holidays with your sister-in-law, don’t discuss them! Have someone else do the mediating.
    • Avoid being defensive.[9] You might want to argue your point but with difficult people, it is best to bypass these kinds of arguments. Do not waste your time trying to prove that you are right. Instead, keep the situation as neutral as possible.
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    Minimize your interactions. Although hopefully you can deal with your problem person, if not, limit your time with her. If you must interact, try to keep things short by excusing yourself from the conversation or bringing a third party into the conversation. Stay as positive as possible and make sure to calm down afterwards.[10]
    • Accept that this person will likely never become the friend, colleague, or sibling you want.[11]
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    Talk to allies. If you are not making headway with someone and need to do so, speak with a potential mediator. Perhaps your boss can help improve the situation. If your conflict is within the family, find a mutual party who can negotiate. Strive to share complaints only with people you trust.

Method 2
Changing Your Mindset

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    Realize there will always be difficult people. No matter where you live or work, you will encounter people who seem like they are out to hurt others. The key is to learn how to deal with these sorts of people. Because they are impossible to avoid, it may help you to identify some of the different types of difficult people so you can decide the best way to interact with them. They include:[12]
    • “Hostile” people tend to react violently. They can be cynical, argumentative, and have trouble being in the wrong. These people thrive in power roles or as cyber bullies.
    • “Rejection-Sensitive” folk look for insults. In other words, it’s very easy to offend them. They often use textual means (email, texting) to express their dismay.
    • “Neurotic” types are yet another breed. They might be anxious or pessimistic and often are very critical of others.
    • “Egoists” prize their own interests first. They loathe compromise and also are hyper-sensitive to personal affronts.
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    Increase your frustration tolerance. The other person's behavior is beyond your control, but you get to decide how you will react and whether or not to engage them. One way to do this is by increasing your frustration tolerance, which involves challenging irrational beliefs that may lead you to become stressed, angry, or lose your cool.
    • When interacting with someone difficult, you may be thinking, "I can't deal with this person anymore!" Before you react based on this irrational thought, take a deep breath and question it's validity.
    • The reality is that you can deal with it. You won't die or go insane because your mother-in-law is trying to micromanage Thanksgiving, or your boss is going on a rant. You are strong and you can take it. Your choice lies in how you take it: will you stress until your blood pressure begins to soar, or will you take some deep breaths and hand your mother-in-law some carrots to chop so she's occupied?
    • When you find yourself using words like "must," "can't," "should," "have to," "always," or "never," take a moment to reassess that thought.
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    Examine your own behavior. If people continually attack you, it could be that you are attracting the wrong types of people. For example, if you are overly negative, other pessimistic people might flock to you. Try to find friends who are engaged in positive behaviors.
    • When you had negative experiences in the past, what was your role? What were your actions in response to the behavior. For example, let’s say your friend Liz constantly picks on you. Do you respond to her? Do you stand up for yourself?
    • It’s helpful to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. This way, when you confront difficult people in the future, you will be better equipped to handle them.
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    Be aware of your perceptions of others. One of your friends might seem difficult but she could be going through a rough time. Instead of judging others’ behaviors immediately, practice empathy by stepping back and reflecting on how you would feel in his or her place. If you are sensitive to personality differences, you will be better able to hand diverse conflicts.
    • Practice acceptance by taking a deep breath and looking at the person with as much compassion as possible. Say to yourself: "I see that you are suffering. I accept that you are anxious and scared, even if I don’t understand why. I accept that you are making me anxious, too."[13]
    • When you accept that something "just is," acknowledging and accepting that the person is difficult, you release some of the tension created by resistance or trying to fight.[14]
    • Imagine a sympathetic reason for their behavior.[15] You may not understand why a customer just blew up at you for no apparent reason. Instead of becoming angry yourself, consider that she might suffer from severe, chronic pain, which gives her an extremely short fuse. It doesn't matter if the reason is true or even very realistic – it helps you stay calm and not feed into the negativity.[16]


  • Never curse. Cursing will only make the other person angry and show that you’ve lost control.
  • Always stay calm and if you feel the need to get angry just walk away.

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