7 Ways to Handle Difficult People


By Staff Writer Published on June 14, 2017

It seems like the hardest things in life are the situations we can’t control—changes, losses, and how the people around us act and feel. A difficult person can make a difficult situation even worse. 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.

How do you handle someone who makes you feel off-balance, manipulated, frustrated, and powerless without totally flying off the handle yourself? Who are these people, and why do they seem to exist to make us feel crazy and even a little helpless? Psychology Today1 says that they’re easily identifiable types, and that there are ways to handle yourself in those difficult encounters so that you come out, if not on top (is it ever possible to win when you’re dealing with a difficult person?), at least with your sanity intact.

Types of Difficult People

  • The Hostile person is angry, and is not afraid to let you know it when they explode into a rage at the slightest provocation. They cannot stand being wrong, and does not trust your opinion. At all.
  • The Rejection-Sensitive person knows you hate them. They know that if you disagree with them, you think they are stupid, that you ignore them on purpose, and you think they are 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 they are 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.

I recognize each of these people not only from my work life, but my 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. Unfortunately, confronting people like these can often lead to poor results—especially when they react badly to what they see as criticism. You can’t always simply avoid a difficult person, so here are seven ways to successfully make it through a conversation with the difficult person in your life without feeling defeated by the end.

Seven Ways to Deal

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 their own issues and how they affect 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 push your buttons, but you are, in the end, the person in charge.

About the Author

Sara Nelson was the social media guru for Stevens-Henager College from 2010-2014 and oversaw the college’s profiles on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and more. She participated in the Master in Business Administration (MBA) program, and  enjoys spending time with her family, listening to good music, and eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.