The art of dealing with difficult personalities


Have you ever had someone bring you down so much that you feel like you want to explode, jumping across the room and screaming out loud? you are not alone.

We've all been there - bravely trying to deal with someone who is so difficult. The situation proves to be frustrating, crazy, and sometimes scary person. The truth is, you can't handle a difficult person. However, there are proven techniques to better manage such difficult cases.

Over the years, I've encountered a good share of difficult people. People who don't run their business as promised, people who don't show up for meetings, people who stand by their opinions and refuse to cooperate, people, who cancel work they're responsible for - and more. Even when I run my own business, I work on collaborative projects and there are times when there are difficulties in getting consensus because everyone is firm in their views.

Years ago, I got used to it and dealt with cases like this. I think, “Why are these people so difficult?”, “These people are so irresponsible!”, “I blame my bad luck on working with them” or “I never want to work with these people again!”.

After a while, I learned that these people are everywhere. No matter where you go, you can't hide from them. Sure, it might be possible to avoid the first difficult person, but what about the third, fifth, and tenth person you meet? Hiding is not always a solution. What's more, in a work context, it's usually difficult to avoid or hide someone, if not to leave the business altogether. Well - I don't know about you, but it doesn't seem like you can quit every time someone has an opposing viewpoint or you find it hard to get along with.

So, instead of resorting to some tough decisions every time, why not equip yourself with the skills to deal with them?

These tips may seem unnatural at first. When you are dealing with someone who is behaving unreasonably, the fear response center of your brain (the fight-or-flight part) will be activated. This part of the brain cannot distinguish between a customer yelling at you or a vicious dog attacking you. It is up to you to engage your conscious mind to defuse the situation.

Some of these tips are general, suggesting mental development. And the other tips are more specific, on the way to guide you with some advice on what to do in the moment of dealing with a difficult person:

Identify the four types:

  • People always have something bad to say. They complain, criticize, and judge. It is almost impossible to please.
  • People who like to try your persuasion and name drop and comparison. They always like to appear to know everything about all subjects and all information.
  • Negatives or people with weak personalities. They don't contribute much to the conversations or the people around them and let others do the hard work.
  • Tanks are also known as explosives or bullies. They want their way, they want things the way they like, and they'll do anything to get what they want.


  • Listen

Listening is the first step in dealing with "unreasonable" people. Everyone wants to feel heard. No progress can occur until the other person feels understood. While listening, really focus on what the other person is saying, not on what you want to say next.

  • Stay calm:

When a situation is emotionally charged, it's easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment. Try to monitor your breathing. Try to take some slow, deep breaths.
Losing control and igniting your temper in front of the other person is usually not the best way to get him/her to cooperate with you. Unless you know that anger will drive the person to action and that you are consciously using it as a strategy to trigger them, it is best to project a calm personality.

The calm person is seen by people as knowing how to control his temper, as being more aware, centered, and respectful. Would you rather work with someone who is mostly calm or someone who is always on standby for bickering? When the person you're with sees that you're calm despite everything they're doing, you'll start to get their attention.

  • Do not judge:

You don't know what the other person is going through. Chances are, if a person is behaving in an unreasonable way, they are likely to feel some sort of vulnerability or fear.

  • Try to understand them:

Try to understand the person's intentions. I'd like to believe that no one is hard for the sake of being tough. Even when it seems like a person is only there to make you angry or make you feel anxious, there is always some underlying reason for them to act in this way. This motive is rarely clear. Try to determine the reason for the person: what makes him or her behave this way? What prevents him from cooperating with you? How can you help meet his needs and resolve the situation? Continuing to say, "I understand," usually makes things worse. Instead, say, "Tell me more so I can understand better.

  • Reflect respect:

And dignity toward the other person. No matter how someone treats you, showing contempt will not help you resolve the situation productively.

But the situation will make you more complicated.

  • Find the hidden need:

What is that person really trying to gain? What is this person trying to avoid?

  • Get another perspective from others:

In any case, your colleagues, managers, and friends must have faced similar situations in one way or another. They will be able to see things from a different angle and present a different attitude to the situation. Find them, share your story, and hear what they have to say. You may well find some golden tips amid a conversation.

  • Avoid smiling:

As this may look like you are making fun of the person. Likewise, humor can sometimes lighten a mood, but more often than not, it is risky and counterproductive.

  • Let the person know where you come from:

The only thing that has worked for me is letting the person know my intentions behind what I am doing. Sometimes, they are resistant to you because they think you are hard on them. Letting them in on the reason behind your actions and the full background of what's going on will enable them to empathize with your situation. This allows them to have the opportunity to improve the relationship much easier.

  • Build a relationship:

    With all computers, emails, and messaging systems, work sometimes turns into a mechanical process. Re-instill the human touch by connecting with your colleagues on a personal level. Go out with them to lunch or dinner. Get to know them as people, not as colleagues. Learn more about their hobbies, their families, and their lives. Foster strong connections with them. This will go a long way in your business.

    • Focus on what can be worked on:

      Sometimes, you may be put into hot soup by difficult colleagues, such as not receiving a portion of the work they promised or being wrongfully responsible for something you didn't do. Whatever it was, we must admit that the situation has already happened. Instead of worrying about what you can't change, focus on practical steps you can take to move forward.

      • Don't act defensively:

        This is difficult. Of course, you don't enjoy the other person saying bad things or things you know aren't true. You want to stand up for yourself. But the other person is having an emotional outburst, and that won't help. Remember, this is not about you. Don't take it personally. (I know, easier said than done.)

        • Don't meet anger with anger:

          Raising your voice, pointing a finger, or not speaking respectfully to the other person will only add fuel to an already heated situation. Use a low, calm voice. Don't try to talk to the person. Wait for the person to take a breath and then speak. Countering anger with anger only makes the situation more complicated.

          • Keep some extra space between you and the other person:

            Your instinct might be to try to calm the other person down by putting your arm across theirs, or some other similar gesture that might be appropriate in other contexts. But if someone is really upset, you should avoid touching, as it may be misinterpreted.

            • Set limits and barriers:

              While I'm encouraged by some of the advice above about listening to the angry person and letting them vent, you also have the right to be firm and say, "Please don't talk to me like that."

              • One response does not fit all:

                You have to stay flexible. Although these guidelines have been shown to be effective in getting out of difficult situations, each person is unique and may respond differently.

                • Don't try to change them:

                  When we meet a difficult person, or if we have someone in our family or circle of friends, our instinct is to try to change them. We try to encourage negative people to be more positive, people with weak personalities to stand up for themselves, and tanks to calm down, and we tell a lot of them to "better be more humble". This never works! In fact, when you try to change someone, they tend to resent you, dig in their heels, and only get worse.

                  • Release your stress and anxiety:

                    You had to put your natural reactions on hold for a while. Now is the time to let out some of that pent-up charge of adrenaline. Go for a run. Take the dog for a walk. Don't let negative emotions or energy stay in your body.
                    Give yourself credit for getting through the uncomfortable situation. It takes a lot of energy not to act disrespectfully when someone else is behaving badly. Don't skip this step!

                    • Ignorance:

                      If you've already tried all of the above and the person still isn't receptive or accepting of your presence, the best approach might be to ignore it. After all, you've already done everything you can within your means. Get your daily tasks and interface done with the person only when needed. Of course, this isn't possible in cases where the person plays an important role in your business - which brings us to the last tip.

                      • Try to escalate the situation to a higher authority for resolution:
                        When all else fails, escalate the situation to your manager. This is your trump card and you should not use it unless you have completely exhausted your means. Sometimes the only way to get someone moving is a top-down approach, especially in bureaucratic organizations. Be careful not to exercise this option all the time because you don't want your manager to think that you are unable to handle your problems. I have done this many times in my previous work and have found it most effective in moving people who would otherwise refuse to cooperate.


                        What do you do when none of this works?

                        You've tried everything and you know nothing will work. At the end of the day, my colleague Sean Ovrastek (according to author Chris Cancialosi) said it best in an article I penned, Weathering the Organizational Storm - Take Care of Yourself.

                        By modeling well-being practices, you are not only serving your mind and body, but you are removing the negative stress of everyone around you. Think of the classic instruction we all receive when getting ready to take off on an airplane, "Secure your mask before helping others". If you don't take care of yourself, you won't have the clarity or energy to help those around you. One way to intentionally take care of yourself is to practice mindfulness, even if for a few minutes at a time. The field of psychology gives us research that focuses on the mind as it promotes calmness, reduces anxiety, and increases productivity. And more and more examples of business leaders are telling us that it matters for our corporate performance as well.

                        The speed of the world around us can place any number of stressors on us and on the people we interact with. Unfortunately, we all deal with stress differently and it can often manifest itself in unproductive ways when dealing with others in our lives. When you encounter these people, your clear understanding of how you will react and the tools you can use to try to keep things productive can mean the difference between painful, annoying, and embarrassing success and failure.

                        References and Where to Learn More

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