How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People (and Some Other Secrets)

Dealing with difficult peopleIt’s inevitable.  At some point in your week you’ll run into one of them.  Those people who seem to turn a wonderful day into a dark one.  But it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

There are studies that demonstrate that people’s energy is contagious.  If you’re happy and an angry person walks into the room, you can feel it.  Your happiness is suddenly dampened.  The angry person spews their negative energy upon anyone in their path, leaving you with the after-effects.

With a few key tools, you can repel that negativity and spread your happiness instead.  With these tools, you’ll never have to lose your smile to a negative person.

  1. Take a deep breath or three.

This allows you to take a moment to think about how you’ll respond to the other person.  It’s amazing what a difference taking those extra moments can make.

Without taking that breath, we may lash out, get defensive, cower or unconsciously repeat our own negative patterns.  This is how couples tend to have the same fights over and over again.  They each press the same buttons of their partner and everyone reacts the same way they always have, repeating the patterns.

The only way to break the patterns is to slow down, become aware of them and make a different choice about how to respond.

  1. Don’t take anything personally.  Know that it’s not about you.

Know that the other person has their own issues that have nothing to do with you.  This can be anything from a bad day to a bad childhood that they haven’t chosen to do something about.

I have a family member whose school yearbooks have quotes from other students that all say something to the effect of:  “You would be a great person if you weren’t so mean” or “if you weren’t such a bully.”  He has continued to be a bully throughout his life.  Being critical, judging others and being a bully all come from fear.  Fear of not living up to some standard.  Fear of not being good enough.  Fear of not being loved.  Bullies attempt to tear down others so they can feel better about themselves.  They do it to almost everyone around them – not just you.

If the difficult person always focuses on a certain area like criticizing how others look or judging the work of others, know that this person has issues with how they see themselves.  They’re tearing others down in those areas in order to feel better about themselves.

Sometimes friends can be a little nasty.  If I know that’s not how they usually are, I‘ll ask them what’s happening in their life.  Sometimes all they need is someone to listen to them to turn their mood around.  And if I can’t help them to feel better, at least I’ve found the source of their negativity and I know it has nothing to do with me.

  1. Put yourself in their shoes.

Without a good understanding of where the other person is coming from, we can make snap judgments that only maintain the negative situation.

Sometimes I imagine the tough childhood of a bully:  not getting the love they needed from their parents so they had many insecurities that led them to lash out at others in an attempt to feel better about themselves.  When I see an adult bully, I imagine the poor little 12 year old not getting the love he or she needed.  I then feel compassion for them which causes me to respond to them much differently than if I had felt that they were picking on me in particular.

Alternatively, if you know the difficult person is just having a bad day, put yourself in their shoes and think of some small thing you can do for them that might turn their mood around.

  1. Get on their side and don’t get defensive.

If the difficult person thinks that you’re working with them, it’s hard for them to fight you.  Instead of getting defensive, ask what you can do to help them.  They can’t get mad at you if you’re trying to help them.

  1. Create as much distance as you can between the two of you.

Find reasons not to get together.  Be busy when they ask for your time.

Difficult people feed off of the people who perpetuate their drama.  When you avoid the person and diffuse the drama, they can’t maintain their nasty persona with you and they won’t seek you out.

You can keep difficult people from ruining your day by remembering these points.  Ultimately, we can’t control other people.  We can only control how we respond to them.  It’s our response that makes a positive difference in our day and might even make that difficult person smile.

It’s not all about them

And now that we’ve figured out how to deal with others, remember that these difficult people wouldn’t bother us so much if there wasn’t something similar inside ourselves that was bothering us.

In a similar vein, we attract people to us for a reason.  If you seem to be surrounded by difficult people or they show up in your work and personal life, ask yourself what lessons you need to learn from them.

Difficult people will continue to show up for you until you take responsibility for your own being.

Have you considered whether you’re the difficult person in other people’s lives?  Take a few moments throughout your day to notice how others are responding to you.  What do you find?

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41 Responses to How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People (and Some Other Secrets)

    Hajra
    Commented:  02/02/2012 at 11:54 am

    Hey Paige,

    You just made me think of whether I am the difficult person or not? ;)

    Well, I keep encountering some difficult people now and then but I try my best not to take it personally. Some can actually be so harsh that they make you have theses strong feeling of self doubt and then it is just a downfall from there. What these people don’t realize is that their harshness might be having a strong influence on someone’s persona and that it might be very difficult to deal with.

    If talking to them is possible, then it is always better to sort it out. Convey how hurt or how difficult they are behaving and that with a little bit of compassion, both can work towards something better or at least make the interaction smooth.

    Some people just respond to being rude. But it is like a trap I feel, you have to be bitter to deal with bitter and that makes things worse. Be the bigger person, forgive and move on.
    Hajra recently posted..Will they call you over for a bloggers party?My Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/02/2012 at 12:24 pm

      No implications there, Hajra! Sometimes we just don’t consider how we may be contributing to our own unhappiness. And other times we’re just facing a person with issues.

      Our natural tendancies are often to copy the behavior of the other person. Taking the extra moment to be conscious of our response vs. reacting can turn that around. Consider reflecting back the opposite of what the difficult person is projecting – compassion for bitterness, quiet words spoken with a smile for angry yelling. Just as we can copy the negative behavior, the difficult person can copy our kinder behavior.

      As you said, being the bigger person and moving on is key.

      Reply
    Angela Artemis/Poweredbyintuition
    Commented:  02/02/2012 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you Paige.
    Great post on an important topic. There are some people like that I find myself getting upset when I come across them.
    The key as you point out is realizing it’s about you not them. I take a breath and think what is in them that reminds me of me? What am I reacting to? That helps me to relax and not allow my emotions to be stirred up.
    Angela Artemis/Poweredbyintuition recently posted..Developing Intuition, Identifying Intuition and Getting Unstuck too!My Profile

    Reply
    Cathy Taughinbaugh | Treatment Talk
    Commented:  02/02/2012 at 3:35 pm

    Hi Paige,

    We all come across difficult people at some point in our life. I can feel my body tense up around certain people and I as well, remind myself that it is not about me, and that we can choose our reactions to others. Thanks for the wonderful reminder and tips on how to cope.

    Reply
    Stuart
    Commented:  02/03/2012 at 1:58 am

    Hi Paige,

    I will be the first to admit that I have been the ‘difficult’ person in the past! One of my flaws which I’m still working on is my tendency to shun socialising – not to be a recluse, but rather to distance myself from other people whenever I don’t feel like socialising. This is good for me to recharge, but I have done it even if other people have relied on me to be there for me.

    I have a greater awareness now where I know that if someone needs me, then I will be there for them no matter how much I want to ‘retreat’. Life is too precious to spend too much of it in solitude!

    Great post Paige :-)
    Stuart recently posted..100 Posts, A Special Contribution, And The Path That Lies Before MeMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/03/2012 at 8:43 am

      I know exactly how you feel Stuart. We introverts need to pull away from others to recharge our batteries. Add that to not knowing how to be there and support others when they need me, I haven’t done great things for some of my closest relationships. It’s difficult for me but I, too, am learning how to just be there for others.

      Reply
    Joe @Shake off the Grind
    Commented:  02/03/2012 at 6:54 am

    Paige,

    Peoples’ energy really is contagious. There are just some people who tend to have a negative impact when I’m around them and it is more difficult to remain positive. I work with teenagers on anger management, and we discuss many things in the post. They have trouble with the notion of not taking things personally. We all have people who push our buttons but it is us who allows them to get under our skin. No one can make us angry without our consent!
    Joe @Shake off the Grind recently posted..How to Alleviate Suffering Using Mindful AwarenessMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/03/2012 at 9:00 am

      So true Joe! The buttons of ours that others press are major signs of things we need to address within ourselves.

      While I’ve read about not taking things personally in a variety of areas, it was when I read about it in The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz that it really struck home. There’s something about the way he writes that it struck me at the core, along with the other agreements. That might be suggested reading for the teens you work with.

      Have you done any work utilizing horses with your teen programs? For many years I’ve volunteered with a variety of programs where horses are used as facilitators in a many types of therapies. It’s amazing what a difference it makes in physical as well as psychological work having these big, gentle creatures act as the teachers instead of humans.

      Reply
    Chrysta Bairre
    Commented:  02/03/2012 at 9:11 am

    This is a great topic I have written about, as well. Difficult people can be so disruptive and it’s a topic worth re-visiting from time-to-time to maintain positive, productive and purposeful relationships with difficult people when I do encounter them.

    The biggest challenge for me when dealing with difficult people is responding, not reacting. I don’t have to take on anyone else’s attitudes, opinions or belief systems, and yet in stressful moments I may unknowingly do just that. When a difficult person throws me me the end of the rope, I don’t have to pick it up and tug.

    Taking a moment to collect myself is so important to responding from my place of confidence, calm, and peace.

    Thanks for this great reminder to be mindful when dealing with all people, including difficult ones.

    Chrysta
    Chrysta Bairre recently posted..Networking: It’s not what you get, it’s what you giveMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/03/2012 at 12:56 pm

      Thanks Chrysta! I agree with you on responding vs. reacting. It’s easy to react when emotions are flying. Taking a breath, a moment, to think makes a big difference.

      Reply
    Tess The Bold Life
    Commented:  02/03/2012 at 9:56 am

    Hi Paige,
    I used to consider my son-in-laws difficult people. Until I realized it wasn’t them it was me. When I took responsibility for my own projection they became wonderful people. Isn’t life grand? Also how did you get so wise so soon?
    Tess The Bold Life recently posted..Fear of Rejection: Get Over It!My Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/03/2012 at 1:01 pm

      So soon? I’m not that much younger than you, Tess. :) I ask the same question of those in their twenties.

      It took a couple decades of beating my head against the wall and repeating the same old patterns (which I clung to dearly) to finally “give up” and stop resisting the change that I truly needed. Things started to make sense and I became happier when I let go and opened myself to living new ideas. It’s amazing what can happen when we stop having to be right all the time.

      Reply
    Joanne
    Commented:  02/03/2012 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for the several tips that you share with us, It can really be a useful thoughts for us encase that I counter difficult people.
    Joanne recently posted..Celebrity WorkoutsMy Profile

    Reply
    Betsy at Zen Mama
    Commented:  02/03/2012 at 10:08 am

    Paige,
    What a great post! So true about another person’s ability to steal your energy. I was thinking the other day how I had surrounded myself with positive people because I spent the day with someone who was complaining and gossiping. I’m just not used to that anymore. I’ll recommend that everyone read this! Thanks!
    Betsy at Zen Mama recently posted..Self Esteem and The Literal MomMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/03/2012 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks Betsy! We become the people that we surround ourselves with and it sounds like you’ve picked the right bunch. Surrounded by a group of positive people also allows you to see your own possibilities and want to take action toward them and we all need more of that in our lives!

      Reply
    Jt Clough | Big Island Dog
    Commented:  02/04/2012 at 10:25 am

    I wish I would have known these things earlier in my life. Just this week my husband and I spent an evening with another couple. We had a great time, but over something really small they had a tiff and it kept going from there. I took up interest while watching it, realizing that though I didn’t like the behavior, I acted like that at her age (the women who started it is 20 years younger than I am).

    I found it interesting that through my recent work, I was able to view it as a situation I could support her through instead of take an immediate exit with no further invitation to do something in the future. I saw myself when I was young, and probably in fleeting moments even now. I am so grateful to be on my own path of love, simplicity, acceptance, and gratefulness and that I have met people like you who support that through our blog connection.

    Mahalo.
    Jt Clough | Big Island Dog recently posted..Walking on Clouds a Mauna Kea PerspectiveMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/04/2012 at 10:58 am

      Thanks Jt! It’s situations like that that help us to see how far we’ve come. So often, when I see people having difficult times, I want to jump in and show them the way out. Unfortunately, they have to want the change and be ready for it which are both biggies. So I do what I can and accept whatever they choose without getting tied up in their issues.

      I, too, am incredibly grateful to have connected with you. You are truly a beautiful person!

      Namaste

      Reply
    Hiten
    Commented:  02/04/2012 at 2:46 pm

    Difficult people are difficult. However, I do like to use opportunties to interact with such people, to really get an understanding of how they work. The more difficult they get, the more patience, understanding and compassion I want to give right back to them. Although sometimes it can be difficult!

    Great post Paige. :-)
    Hiten recently posted..If you know ‘why’ then will you focus on ‘how’?My Profile

    Reply
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  2. farouk
    Commented:  02/05/2012 at 1:31 am

    thank you for the awesome list of advice Paige
    we need that post these days with all those difficult people around

    Reply
    Sibyl
    Commented:  02/05/2012 at 11:54 am

    Paige: This is all excellent advice and you are so right that chances are you are going to come in contact with people that are challenging. I think it is such a great idea to have a plan for how you are going to respond and then chances are much better that you will not get sucked into the drama. I love all of these suggestions you shared. Definitely very helpful. Great post.
    Sibyl recently posted..5 Simple Things You Can Do to Really Live Better Today (Part #2)My Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/06/2012 at 7:06 pm

      Thanks Sibyl! We may not always respond the way we want but if we take a second to think before acting, amazing things can happen and old habits can begin to turn around.

      Reply
    Tanja @ Crystal Clarity
    Commented:  02/05/2012 at 9:24 pm

    Oh such wise words here, Paige – and I love that you ended with a call to consider how we might be appearing as a difficult person in the lives of people around us.

    I *try* to bring mindfulness to all my interactions… but the reality is that I can be pretty hit and miss. I guess it’s all part of the learning!

    Blessings – TANJA
    Tanja @ Crystal Clarity recently posted..Monday Resource Review: The Transformation Journey, by Loran HillsMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/06/2012 at 7:10 pm

      Exactly, Tanja! It’s all part of the learning and practicing. We’re never “done” or “perfect.” We just keep moving forward. Thank you!

      Reply
    Evelyn Lim
    Commented:  02/05/2012 at 9:51 pm

    I am blessed to reach the stage whereby I do not have to deal with that many difficult people. I like your second tip about not taking things personally. It means not letting our egos take charge. We also allow the “difficult” person the space to be, with the understanding that he or she probably has some unresolved issues. On the contrary, should we react in anger, we know that we have something that needs to be addressed on our part.

    Great topic for discussion, Paige!
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..How to Open Your Heart to LoveMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  02/06/2012 at 7:30 pm

      Thanks Evelyn! You’re very lucky to have reached a point of not dealing with many difficult people.

      Whether it’s dealing with difficult people or any other situation, not taking things personally can make a huge difference in our frame of mind, our responses and our outcomes.

      We all have hot buttons. The more we see them as sources of learning instead of things to get all hot and bothered about, the more ease we have in our lives.

      Reply
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  4. Nancy Shields
    Commented:  02/06/2012 at 11:14 am

    Thought provoking post – I like this part: “difficult people wouldn’t bother us so much if there wasn’t something similar inside ourselves that was bothering us.”

    Amen to that statement!

    That’s the difficult part – examing ourselves to not be so difficult – “who wants to do that”….well, I say, if you want to be happy then you must take action in the happiness department.

    Letting go of difficult people allows the pleasurable people to come in!

    Thank you!
    Nancy

    Reply
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  10. ioana moise
    Commented:  01/05/2013 at 2:16 am

    Thanks for sharing the awesome article
    It can really be a useful thoughts for us encase that I counter difficult people.
    ioana moise recently posted..Chat roomMy Profile

    Reply
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