7 Ways to Handle Difficult People

By Staff Writer Published on May 17, 2012

You know that you’re a reasonable human being who knows how to interact with other reasonable human beings, so it’s easy to be thrown completely off by the bad behavior of someone you encounter at your work or at school. They make you feel off-balance, manipulated, frustrated, powerless, and it can be hard not to react badly in return, which just makes a bad situation even worse.

The worst part is—it can make you feel guilty, and like maybe you’re a difficult person too. But the great thing about learning how to handle a difficult person is that it can teach you valuable coping tools, increase your patience with and sensitivity to the unhappiness of others, and even help a difficult person feel valued instead of invisible or disliked.

Who are these people, and how do you turn a negative situation into a positive one? According to Psychology Today, they’re easy to spot, and with a little effort, you can defuse difficult situations for everyone involved.

Types of Difficult People

  • The Hostile person is angry and is not afraid to let you know it when she explodes into a rage at the slightest provocation. She cannot stand being wrong and does not trust your opinion. At all.


  • The Rejection-Sensitive knows you hate him. He knows that if you disagree with him, you think he’s stupid, that you ignore him on purpose, and you think he’s worthless, too.


  • The Neurotic thinks that everything is hopelessly difficult, and all problems are insurmountable. They know that there is no solution, and all your ideas are futile.


  • The Egoist knows that she is one hundred percent correct at all times, and compromise is unacceptable. You must agree with an egoist’s opinions because any other reaction will not be tolerated.

Seven Ways to Deal

Recognize that each of these people may not only from your work life but your personal life as well. It can be exhausting, dealing with someone who is so wrapped up in their own head that they cannot understand how their behavior and reactions affect those around them. Here are seven ways to help develop a successful relationship with a difficult person.

1. Limit your exposure. When you have to deal with a difficult person, keep that encounter as short and sweet as possible.

2. Stay focused. Don’t try to reason with someone who is difficult, or try to be their friend. Simply stick with the purpose of the conversation.

3. Avoid personal talk—or talk about them. Opening up in a conversation with a difficult person can also open you up as a target for criticism. Avoid personal remarks, or make sure the conversations stays focused on them.

4. Don’t try to change a difficult person. They will never change. When we hope that somehow they will transform into someone different, that they will understand the damage they can do, we end up disappointed. When you accept that this person is difficult, and that is who they are, it can be incredibly freeing, and even a relief.

5. Know what triggers them, and avoid those topics at all costs. When a difficult topic comes up, change the subject immediately! It won’t solve all your problems when talking to a difficult person, but it will minimize the chance of a conversation getting ugly.

6. Don’t try to get them to see your point of view. Don’t try to explain yourself or get them to empathize with you. They won’t. And you’ll just feel worse for trying.

7. Offer distraction. When the conversation can turn to focusing on some outside distraction, the focus is much less likely to zero in on you, or an uncomfortable topic. Plus it creates an opportunity to change the subject easily and smoothly.

The overall best strategy to deal with any kind of difficult person is to remain calm and centered, to take your emotions out of the interaction as much as possible, and to understand that a difficult person often does not recognize her own issues and how she affects others. When you respond calmly and respectfully to a difficult person, you’re not only defusing a difficult situation, you’re reclaiming your power, and you’re helping someone feel valued. It can be an incredible challenge to deal with someone who knows how to punch your buttons, but you are, in the end, the person in charge.