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How to Deal with a Difficult Person (10 Effective Tips to Help You)

by Vidya Sury February 21, 2022 2 comments
How to Deal with a Difficult Person... Even When You Want to Pull Your Hair Out and Scream

Ever had to deal with a difficult person–someone who made you want to pull every single hair out of your head and scream at the top of your lungs? Of course, you have! What a dumb question. But more important, do you have to deal with a person like this on a regular basis? It can be so tiring, right?

It stresses the sh*t out of you and keeps you from functioning properly. Not to mention the headaches and stress.

The truth is, there’s no way to totally avoid difficult people in life, simply because we’ll meet all sorts. They’re going to be in your social circle, your workplace, and definitely in your family.

How do you maintain harmonious relationships? How to stay sane even as you deal with these difficult people?

It isn’t easy. It takes practice. But the good news is it is possible!

10 tips to deal with a difficult person even when you want to tear out your hair

Here are 10 strategies that help me deal with difficult people.

I didn’t get there overnight and you don’t have to, either. But you’ll get there!

1. Stay calm

This is my first tip for dealing with difficult people. No matter how crazy that person drives you, don’t lose your cool. Find ways to keep yourself calm when you feel the anger and frustration coming on.

  • Count to ten.
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Think of something peaceful—use visualization.
  • Use affirmations to help you handle the situation calmly and in a controlled manner.

You can relieve your stress later in a healthier way.

2.  Be Kind

Now, we need to remember that difficult people don’t always behave with the intention to ruin our lives. In fact, they may not even be aware of the havoc they are causing. So when you deal with difficult people, start by assuming that their intentions are good. Be patient. Be forgiving.

Oh, I know it is not easy but now might be a good time to put yourself in their shoes and understand the struggle they are going through. This will help you deal with the situation more calmly.

 3. Identify their hidden need

Now, before you think, “oh, really?!” let me explain. Often, when someone is being difficult, it is probably because they have some unmet need simmering below the surface. It may have absolutely nothing to do with your interaction with them.

Sometimes, you may figure out what this need is, and even be able to offer something to fulfill it. And this can diffuse the situation.

Let’s assume that they feel unappreciated for the work they do for their boss. If you show them a little appreciation, it may be all that is needed to make them easier to deal with.

4. Listen

We’ve all felt the need for someone to just listen to them. When you have to deal with difficult people, all you may need to do is to listen without being judgmental. Show them some empathy. This may resolve the situation and make them more reasonable.

5. Ask questions

Do not be hasty in making assumptions or jumping to conclusions just so you can get rid of this person. For all you know, you may be adding to the problem.

Instead, how about asking questions and clarifying things, especially if you are in the middle of a conflict? Ask open-ended questions rather than the yes-no type. This will show you what is causing the undesirable behavior and help you deal with it better.

6. Seek Support

If someone you know has dealt with this person in the past, talk to them. It may give you some perspective on what’s going on. Perhaps the other person felt the same way you do. Also, chances are they understand the issues this person is facing and found a way to deal with them. If nothing else, they will at least listen to you in empathy. It is so much easier to deal with a difficult person when you feel supported.

7. Have a one-on-one with the person in private

Make sure you are in a calm and patient frame of mind. Then approach the person and talk to them privately. Tell them how their words and actions make you feel. Now, remember this is not about playing the blame game and you are not expecting a solution to arise out of this.

Rather than actively trying to stop the problem behavior, you are just letting the person know the effect it is having on you, thereby giving the person a chance to examine their behavior and who knows, possibly change.

Read: How to stop playing the blame game

8. Take steps to ease the situation

Think about what you can do to make things better for you. Maybe you can handle your emails and other communications differently. When you do that, these tough interactions could be fewer and result in a more peaceful day for you.

9. Try Humor to diffuse the situation

Not saying this will always work but worth a try. Tactfully make the situation light and humorous to draw the person’s attention to their behavior without being confrontational or emotional about it. Maybe you can laugh it off and move on.

10. Learn to Say No

Learning to say no is an important life skill. Use it to avoid opportunities that will put you in situations where you have to deal with a difficult person or even bring you in contact with them. You’d be surprised to know that our natural inability to say no is often the cause for conflict.

See, as I said earlier, it is not easy to reason with someone who is inherently unreasonable. But these tips may help you deal with difficult people just a little better. Figure out what worked and what did not. Some strategies may work in some situations but not in others. So be flexible, be kind, show empathy.

Important things to remember:

  • Be respectful and dignified. Being contemptuous is not an option.
  • Try and figure out what the person really wants to achieve or avoid
  • Be big-hearted enough to allow the person to vent.
  • Find out more about the situation.
  • Try not to smile—it may be construed as mocking.
  • Avoid being defensive and try not to take it personally.
  • Avoid showing anger or raising your voice.
  • Arguing will get you nowhere and may simply make things worse.
  • Avoid physical contact.
  • If the situation warrants it, don’t hesitate to apologize.
  • Remember your boundaries.
  • Ask yourself–is this worth fighting for?
  • If the conflict is unresolvable, step away.
  • Talk to someone about this after you’ve resolved the situation. It really helps.
  • Work off your own stress to release all that pent-up emotion in your body.

When you successfully deal with a difficult person, don’t forget to congratulate yourself! After all, it is no easy task to invest your energy, time, and effort when someone makes you want to tear out your hair!

Here’s a great acronym for conflict manage (source)

VALUED conflict model
Ask (open-ended questions)
Listen (to test assumptions)
Uncover interests
Explore options
Decide (on solutions)

TSA’s four R’s of conflict management
Respond with Respect
Resolve and manage

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Birgit February 23, 2022 at 10:15 am

Hello Vidya! It has been too long and that is my fault. I hope you are not angry or disappointed in me as I am in myself. I like what you wrote here but, I have to admit, the best is to just stay away as best as you can. I tried to reason, I tried humour but it didn’t work. I ended up staying out of their way but, if they came into my office to talk, they were welcome and I listened. As for a friend, I don’t need that and cut the ties as best as I can since another friend still invites them to dinners. How are you? How have you been coping with Covid? I hope you and your family have been able to stay healthy. I know I am out of the loop. I lost my mom 4 years ago. I also had the pipes burst in my bathroom the week before and was in a car accident the week after her death. I was fine though but we needed another car. We have been doing well overall and are covid free, so far plus we have all our shots. I had endometrial uterine hyperplasia which would turn into cancer if not looked after so, this past October I had a full hysterectomy. Now, September was a very bad month…I got the call when my actual surgery was going to be which made me feel nervous as it was concrete. The next day, after I texted my niece, who considers herself binary, she did not want to speak to me. She texted I was very insensitive and judgemental in every conversation we ever had, wished me well but needs her space. I am giving that but I was hurt. The next day my hubby was in extreme pain and he ended up in the hospital…a very large kidney stone. He was there for 5 days and told he would go in for the procedure( laser surgery) only to be told around 9pm that he would have to wait for the next day and was then given a stale sandwich to eat. They ended up putting a stint in and sent him home. The folllowing week, I went on a zoom call with my manager and the higher up person was there too. My small Credit Counselling Office was amalgamated with Toronto in 2019, Nov. well, I was told, “Due to restructuring, we are having to let you go effective immediately.” There was no, you are a good counsellor or we will give you a reference just that. I was devastated since I have been a c4edit counsellor for over 30 yrs. I am still dealing with this to be honest. The week after my husband had his laser surgery, the week after, he had his hernia operation, the week after that, the stint was removed and the week after that I had my surgery. So….we still have no bathroom downstairs and things are in a disarray but we are healthy which is good. I am not holding my breath about my niece but I will be here if she ever wishes to speak to me but it will not be by text. Hahahaa. I wish you so much happiness and hope to be back here on a more normal basis.
Birgit recently posted…It’s About F*&% Time

Vidya Sury February 23, 2022 at 11:00 am

Oh gosh, Birgit! You’ve had an overflowing plate filled with grief, health issues and so much more. First of all, how could I ever be anything but loving towards you? Life does happen and the past couple of years have not been nice at all for the world in general. I am so sorry to hear about your struggle with health issues. And the work situation sounds shocking, especially after you’ve been with them for such a long time. I hope they compensated you properly for the sudden decision. Sorry to hear about your niece–it is something only time can heal. I hope your husband is recovering well. These days, going to the hospital is in itself so scary. On our side–we’ve lost several family members to the pandemic, sadly and unexpectedly. People who seemed absolutely healthy and unlikely to test positive, but who can predict these things? We are coping as best as we can. Life does go on, does it not?
You are one of my most favorite writers, Birgit. And of course, I think of you every time I see a greeting card, which is often, because I have so many. I’ve also been dabbling with making stuff. Sending you so much love and good wishes, Birgit. Hugs! I am here if you ever want to talk – we are connected on Facebook and Instagram as well. And you have my email too. Stay in touch! 💜
Vidya Sury recently posted…How to Deal with a Difficult Person (10 Effective Tips to Help You)


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