Dealing with Difficult People

We all know them. The ones who never have anything positive to say about ANYTHING. The ones who know it all. The ones who say “Yes” to everything and never seem to think for themselves. These are the people who make our lives and communication difficult. Sometimes we’d like to throttle them, but that usually isn’t the best option!


So, what ARE your options?

Option 1: Well, you could simply ignore the situation and do nothing. This is the route many people take. Unfortunately, the difficult behavior usually gets worse over time and a whole department or company can become affected and infected.

Option 2: A more favorable option is to change your attitude about the person. I know, I know. It sounds very simplistic and “Pollyannaish.” However when you see them differently, listen to them differently, you will begin to feel differently about them. You won’t have the same reactions to them. Changing your attitude is crucial if you want to be flexible enough to be able to do the even harder thing — change your behavior. This is the “biggy.” When you change how you deal with someone, they have to change how they deal with you

Part of being able to change your behavior, and as a result, cause others to change theirs, is to understand the other person. There are a variety of diagnostic tools to help you discover personality styles. With the results, you can determine which of the variety of communication behavior will be most effective in a particular situation.

In contrast, the difficult person will often will latch on to one type of behavior, take it to the extreme and rarely deviate from it. This is especially true when they’re under stress. Understanding this will help you look for ways to communicate with these people in a more positive manner, prevent future conflicts and resolve any current problems before they get out of hand.

For example

A “yes” person is often very people focused. He/she wants to please people and avoid confrontation.

As a result, they’ll make commitments without thinking about all of the other things that they have agreed to do. This leads to stress and resentment because they can’t possibly finish everything. You can help them by first letting them know that you appreciation them and the work they’ve done. You want to strengthen the relationship with these people because relationships are very important to them. Once they feel comfortable with you and you’ve developed a sense of trust, they’ll respond more positively when you help them learn to set goals and priorities.


The Platinum Rule

It should go without saying that you aren’t doing this to be manipulative. You’re trying to communicate according to the Platinum Rule 

Platinum Rule:

To communicate with others in ways in which they want to be communicated.

Besides, people can tell when you don’t “walk your talk” and it will be almost impossible to build the trust that you’re striving for. If you’re task-oriented and dealing with a people-person, you must be genuine when you take the time to talk and appreciate. It can’t simply be one more item on your “To Do” list!

Sometimes we can all get fed up with the behavior of the difficult person; they can easily drive us crazy, make us angry or unhappy. At these times, we may say things that we later regret. No matter what the situation, it’s important to treat each day and each communication with them as a Fresh Start. It’s sometimes hard, but don’t allow lingering bad feelings to impact the communication you have with them today. This is a strong position, not a passive or weak one. You’re not letting them get away with something, but allowing past communications to have no impact as you go forward striving for a more positive relationship. Remember what was said at the beginning of this article, if you change how you deal with them, they have to change how they deal with you.


Goal Setting Can Help

Most of us can’t change our communication style overnight, we’re usually trying to change habits of a lifetime. However, you can set some goals.

First, observe yourself and the communication environment you’re in. Are there certain people or situations that cause you to react in certain ways? Write down your observations. This is the awareness piece. If you don’t know what the issues are, you can’t fix them.

Then, set attainable goals. Remember, you’re not trying to change the other person, all you can change is yourself. Write down your goals and keep track of your success or failure to implement them. This will help you see any patterns and correct those areas where you seem to be less successful. You will also be able to determine those areas where you’ve made progress. Once a new goal or behavior becomes habit, you can take it off of your list. For example, you might write down that you will treat each encounter with a particularly trying colleague as a fresh start. At the end of the day, how did you do? Write it down. Try it for a few days or a week and then go to another one of your goals. Stay focused on the positive. Don’t let yourself drift into a goal that says “I’m not going to …” Instead, keep it more along the lines of “Today I will …”



Improving your communication is one of the single most important things that you can do to handle difficult people. These techniques are effective not only in the workplace, but in all aspects of your life – family, friends, community, etc. Don’t give up. Change IS possible.



©2017, Say It Well! Permission is given to reprint this article if the following is included: Reprinted by permission of Dr. Candice M. Coleman. She can be reached at 636-724-3761.