Six Tips To Dealing With Difficult People

Tom dreads work because he thinks that his boss is overbearing and often wants to micromanage him.

For Susan, every morning is always a challenge as she tries to wake her son up for school.

David feels that he is too nice and is unable to say “no” when someone requests for help. He often ends up drained because of his need to help others.

What these three persons have in common is that they are facing difficult people and do not know how to deal with them. Do these stories resonate with you?

At some point in our lives, we need to deal with difficult people because they are everywhere. They can either pose a challenge in our lives or pop up unexpectedly, always demanding that we do things their way. In the end, they can leave us feeling stressed, frustrated and angry.


What to consider when you’re in the situation:



In order to deal with difficult people, we need to know that they are not against us. In fact, they are just protecting their own self-interests.  These self-interests are basically their own set of values and beliefs which they have learnt from experiences of the past.  Hence, they are more adamant to “stick their guns” concerning certain ways of doing things or holding certain views.

On the other hand, there are issues that you may deem important while they may be nonchalant about them.  The point is that people are motivated for their own reasons and not for their own reasons.



While we cannot see people’s motivations, we can see how they behave.  Intrinsic motivations are usually acted in a behaviour.  Grouped together, these behaviours are called “personalities”. By looking at their personalities, we can know certain clues to how they are motivated.

For example, someone who is extroverted usually likes to relate to people and maybe the life of the party.  So, if you prefer to be alone or less inclined to mix around, you may find that it takes extra energy to “party” with them all the time.  Over time, you will find them to be “difficult” because you cannot keep up with the energy to be engaged with people just like they do. You may feel stressed just by trying to keep up with it.

Conversely, introverted persons are more reserved and may be more cautious in life. They need more details before making a decision.  Therefore extroverted people may find these people a challenge because they think that it is such a waste of time to be so cautious that one needs to weigh many factors before making a decision. As a result, the extroverted needs a little bit of patience when relating to the introverted.


Quick Tips Red Icon


Some pointers on what you can do when dealing with difficult people.

And the good news is that we don’t need to end up in a gridlock when dealing with them.


1. Don’t judge or label

When people are difficult, we find it easy to judge or label them.  Labels such as, “You are always so irresponsible!” or “You are so stupid!” do not help. They will evoke strong feelings and may cause people to be defensive. They may also cause people to alienate people from you – leaving both parties frustrated.


2. Don’t be defensive

When difficult people confront you, don’t be defensive because defensiveness will put you in a position where others may perceive you as evading your own responsibilities or trying to be adamant concerning your own views. They may also view you as someone who is inflexible.


3. State the facts

Instead of judging or labelling, just state the facts. Starting the facts neutralises the situation.  For example, instead of saying, “Why are you always late (labelling) with your reports? You know you are always so irresponsible (judging), you always slow the team down!”, just say, “The report was due three days ago” (fact).


4. Be curious

This is where you allow the other person to explain. By being curious, we allow the other party to air out so that we are able to understand where the other person is coming from. “The report was due three days ago, what happened?”


It does not matter what the other person is trying to explain, by allowing him space to explain, we are sending the message that we care.  It does not even matter if you believe his story. Listening to his explanation shows that you care.


5. Re-contract

For this example in this article, it is important to re-contract with him the new deadline.  If time is crucial, then you should state the deadline. If not, allow him to decide on the new deadline.  However, re-contracting is important to regain the trust.


6. Future planning

In order not to firefight and to prevent a recurring episode, which will end up you being frustrated again, be proactive by future planning.  A question like, “How can we ensure that it won’t happen again in the future?” would suffice.  Here you are being proactive by asking the person to tell you how to prevent a relapse.  In other words, he needs to have a concrete plan to make sure that future deadlines are being adhered to.



Dealing with difficult people may appear challenging.  Often if we label or judge these difficult people, it will make matters worse because we perceive that they will never change and we may end up feeling trapped.

However, having the perspective that difficult people are not being difficult, but are just acting out of their own motivations will enable us to relate to them according to their own personalities. This will also extend our locus of control.  We are no longer feeling helpless but we know that we are able to deal with them accordingly.

Using facts to dialogue with them helps us to bring across the point without getting personal. This will also enable to negotiation the behaviour that was agreed in the past, or/and establish new behaviour – resulting in both parties having a win-win situation.


Article contributed by Danny Ho, an Associate Master Trainer with Deep Impact.