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How to Deal with Difficult People

Tips on how to productively interact with people you’d rather avoid. 

It’s one thing to have to put up with your overbearing grandmother during the holidays, but there are other people that you’re forced to deal with for the rest of the year. The people that make you want to head for the door whenever they’re in the room. We’ve all had to deal with difficult people, and in many cases work with them, or for them. Knowing how to navigate interactions with them can be quite a challenge, but there are steps you can take to make it a little bit easier. 

Determine What About Them Bothers You 

As a first step, it’s important to recognize what about the situation is difficult. Everyone is different, each person has a distinct personality; what one individual may find annoying or unnerving may not bother another at all. Try to pinpoint what it is about this person that rubs you the wrong way. Is it the way they speak to you? Are they controlling? Maybe they ask too many questions or display an annoying habit. Identifying the problem you have with your associate will help you determine the appropriate strategies to overcome any negative feelings you may have toward the person. 

Kill Them with Kindness

Difficult people often have underlying issues that lead them to behave the way they do. What is the person trying to gain? What are they trying to avoid? Asking yourself these questions will allow you to understand the person better, and maybe even make you sympathetic towards them. Demonstrate respect and dignity, even if they continue to be difficult. Reciprocating their energy will only make the problem worse – and make any resolution harder to achieve. Although it’s challenging to be nice to someone who isn’t very nice themselves, it will be rewarding to know that they can’t hold your behaviour against you. Allow yourself the satisfaction of being the better person. You may even end up building a rapport with them and making a new friend. 

Don’t Let Them Take Advantage of You 

It’s unfortunately easy to find yourself in an unwanted or unfair arrangement when you cater to a difficult person’s needs. One trait common to many difficult people is an unwillingness to compromise. Because of their behaviour, they’re often given what they want by people who just don’t want to deal with them. Avoid compromising your own integrity simply to resolve the problem. Instead, be firm about your stance while remaining calm and respectful. Use your judgement when handling the situation and keep in mind the significance of the other person’s needs and wants in regard to your own morals and values. If what they want will negatively affect you or someone else, keep working on a solution, and don’t acquiesce. 

It’s Not About You 

Even with the above in mind, it’s equally important not to think too much about yourself when dealing with a difficult person. Don’t take things personally. Even if your first instinct is to become defensive and protect yourself, just know that they would treat someone else in your position the same way. More often than not, they’re just trying to achieve their end goal – they’re just not nice or polite about doing so.

Focus on What Needs to be Done 

It’s not always possible to accommodate a difficult person’s needs, so avoid blaming yourself if you have trouble coming up with a solution that works to their satisfaction. Instead, try to understand their motive and provide suggestions on how they can attain what they want. In turn, let the person know where you’re coming from; maybe they think you’re being difficult. Open communication leaves little room for assumptions. Seek common ground and try to come up with a solution that achieves a common goal. 

Sometimes the Best Communication is Silence

Even then, coming to a decision that satisfies both parties when a difficult person is involved is never easy. You can spend hours, days – even weeks – working on a solution and still not resolve the issue. The simple fact is that difficult people are difficult. They can often be close-minded and are sometimes just tough to deal with. In situations like these it’s okay to walk away from someone who is hard to deal with. The last thing you want to do is be equally intractable in your approach to them. If the matter still needs to be resolved, take a breather and come back to it. Don’t be afraid to bring in a third party, such as a colleague or even a manager, to help you when you’re ready to revisit the situation. 

Take Time for You 

At the end of the day, you may or may not come up with a workable resolution. What’s important is that you were focused on the solution instead of the problem. Regardless of whether the problem was resolved in your favour (or at all), let yourself feel the emotions you worked so hard to keep at bay during your confrontation. Reflect on the situation. Having to deal with a difficult person is an excellent opportunity to grow and expand your own people skills. 

Challenging circumstances with problematic people are bound to happen; it’s one of the ways life throws us curveballs. Implementing these tactics when dealing with difficult people will, however, allow you to hit that curveball out of the metaphorical park – and safely out of your field of positivity. 

Tasnia Nasar | Contributing Writer

Spring 2024

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