Dealing with Difficult People

Have you met this person? He is often angry, pushy, impatient, manipulative, complaining and generally difficult to get along with.

No matter what job we are in and where we live we will all bump into him at some stage. Some of us will have the challenge of working with him, for him or even being related!

We often wish for a magical wand to change his personality, but unless he wants to change he will keep being annoying and aggravating.

What we can change is the way that we respond to him.

Some questions to start with are…

Would others in your team see you as a difficult person?

Be honest with yourself. Before you blame others for being difficult, is it possible that it is actually you who is the difficult one?

How do you usually react to someone who is being really difficult?

It is a natural instinct to react and attack back to defend ourselves.

How do you feel afterwards?

When we react to negativity, we are disturbing our inner space and mentally creating pain within ourselves.

Here are some things to think about –

Are they like this with everyone? It is important to think about the person’s usual interactions with you and other members of the team.

If they are usually difficult with everyone, then they are just doing what they do. Don’t take it personally as they have probably left a trail of personal destruction in their wake and if you hadn’t have been standing there they would have blasted someone else.

It’s helpful to understand that they are people with issues and generally poor relationship skills.

On the other hand, if they are a person who is usually calm, collected and polite then either they are going through something in their lives or you have done something to contribute to the situation and perhaps need to make amends.

Try to understand what they are so upset about. It could be unmet expectations or stress in areas that can rock the boat like family, finances and time. With continued economic uncertainty, senior staff may be under increased pressure which can make even the calmest individual easily agitated.

When you understand the causes of their complaints, then you can begin to create positive solutions if their concerns are legitimate. Listen to them and then make a sensible response.

Some tips to remember when dealing with a difficult person –

Don’t respond. Quite often when a person communicates in an abrasive fashion or with a difficult attitude, they are trying to trigger a response from you. When you react, you are giving them what they want.

Remain calm and continue to be the person who you want to be. Avoid the temptation to allow your animal instincts to take over – the outcome will never benefit you and will often make the situation worse.

Be assertive. There is nothing wrong with politely asking someone not to talk to you in a manner in which you feel is impolite or difficult.

And if all else fails, you have the right to avoid the individual. Negative people are a source of emotional energy drain. Avoid interactions with them as much as possible. You have the choice to be surrounded by positive, happy, respectful and peaceful people – so make sure you are!

Dealing with difficult people is not easy; otherwise they would not be ‘difficult people’.

This article was originally published in the September 2011 issue of the ”Guidelight Employee Enhancement Service” newsletter. I asked Peter Doyle, the Director and lead Psychologist of Guidelight, if we could reproduce the article as I felt it would be of value to our own customers.

Guidelight People Performance Solutions ( are a Gold Coast based psychology, mentoring and coaching firm, established in 1994. I was first introduced to Peter about 10 years ago through one of my own mentors, when he noticed my own struggles to effectively deal with “difficult people”.

From there, both I and my team have continued to enjoy a very strong relationship with Peter and Guidelight. My senior team and I regularly attend Guidelight’s bi-monthly “Business Leadership Forum” where we enjoy the opportunity of discussing business challenges and success drivers with other business owners and their senior teams.

If you or your team are in positions which require face to face work with a large volume of customers you may be interested in Guidelight’s “Dealing with Difficult People” training workshop.

The “Dealing with Difficult People” training workshop has been developed using a competency based framework and draws upon many of the principles within action learning models. The complexity and delivery emphasis can easily be adjusted to challenge staff at any level within your organisation.

If you’d like to speak with one of the Guidelight team to enquire about this, or other training options available, please contact their office on (07) 5527 0123 or jump onto their website at

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