Real Ways to Deal With Difficult People in Your Work and Personal Life

Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash

They come in all shapes and sizes. You know, the Pushy, the Mrs Always Right, the Mr I’m- too- good for this. No matter what road you’ve since travelled or plan to travel, you’re going to encounter people who make you want to rip your hair out.

Of the few sureties in life, meeting someone who doesn’t quite ‘mesh’ with you or others around them is at the top of the list- whether it’s in your personal life or your work life.

Let me preface by saying that the idea of a ‘difficult’ person has quite a bit to do with your own boundaries and your personal experiences and beliefs of the behaviours you believe to be acceptable as social norms.

In my brief 28 (ish) years of life, I’ve encountered many more than I can count on my 20 fingers and toes. the plus side is, I now consider myself to have a decent knowledge of how to deal with the different types of people I interact with. I have no doubt that you will benefit from it too.

The Tank to the Whiner — 10 Types of Difficult People

Dr Rick Brinkman and Dr Rick Kirschner, in their book Dealing with Difficult People conclude there are 10 types of difficult people;

  1. Tank — Aggressive and pushy
  2. Sniper– Rude, sly and sarcastic
  3. Know it All– Does not like to be corrected or contradicted
  4. Think They Know It All– Often the most vocal even though not quite knowledgable
  5. Grenade Person– Explosive ranting
  6. Yes Person — People pleasing and over-committal
  7. Maybe Person– procrastinates, hoping for a better option
  8. Nothing Person– Offers no feedback whatsoever
  9. No Person– The negative Nancy or Nathan
  10. Whiners– Thinks everything and everyone is against them

In this post, I’m going to talk to you through a few experiences and how you can encounter difficult people without getting worked up and even with a better relationship with the individual than before.

It Could Be You…

In my teenage years of being in school, I had problems with a lot of people. Sometimes I told them outright, sometimes I just held the resentment inside and it would surface in other ways, such as acting out on the undeserving or having blowouts come at the wrong time. I always thought I knew it all and would challenge anyone who dared correct me. It was always someone else’s fault why something bad was happening to me…or so I thought.

Fast forward to a couple of years later in the local college I attended before going off to University; I was chatting with a friend and complaining about not liking someone. She said something to me that impacted me and will always stick with me.

She retorted, ” You never like anybody!”

That struck me to the core. I think it was from that day forward that I began shifting my perspective.

In examining another person’s character, you must also examine your own. Like I failed to, you may not be aware, or may not want to admit it, but there is a possibility that the toxicity lies with you, rather than the other person.

Here are a few quick questions to ask yourself before you label someone difficult:

  • Do I have any biases getting in the way?
  • I am immitting any offensive signals?
  • Am I the one who’s riled up?
  • Am I in some way jealous of the other person?
  • Do I feel inferior to them?

You must be humble enough to go through this exercise before earning the right to label someone ‘difficult.’

It Could Be Deeper…Tread Carefully

People often hide their emotions and insecurities behind a not-so-pleasant exterior.

Throughout my working and personal life, I encountered a number of the difficult people in the list by Dr Rick Brinkman and Dr Rick Kirschner and what I’ve come to realise is that many have deeply personal issues that they’re battling with. It could be the workmate who gets along with only 0.001% of people in the office because she is constantly in a push and pull relationship with her adult daughter. Or that one guy who is great at his job but is labelled as unreliable and toxic because he is still battling with the loss of his father.

Whenever my siblings and I complained about someone being difficult my dear mother would say, “Don’t hate them, pity them.”

Who knew that this seemingly terrible advice in our youth would turn out to be so valuable in adulthood?

Make it your aim to consider what difficulties someone might be going through before you match their level of discomposure. This doesn’t mean you give them leeway to disrespect you but it does help you to extend a greater degree of compassion when dealing with them.

How To Come Out of Your Encounters Better Off

Get on their good side

Advice is better taken from a friend than an enemy. If you notice something genuinely commendable, then go ahead and compliment them. Tell them you admire the care they put into their work or acknowledge something you two may have in common.

This may disarm a Sniper or a negative Nancy.

Be firm, yet calm-stand up to a bully

In dealing with an aggressive or pushy person especially, you need to stand your ground. Allowing someone to disrespect you once, leaves the gate open for them to pass right through and walk all over you again. Do not let that happen.

Call them out. Tell them you don’t appreciate the way they’re speaking to you and tell them to come to find you when they calm down. Do not match their level of disrespect. Be firm, yet respectful.

I’ve had to do this even in an instance where the person was senior to me. Because I maintained my calmness while being clear that I did not appreciate the tone being used, the relationship remained intact when the person later calmed down.

Be solution-oriented

You have definitely encountered a whiner or two. In fact, you yourself may have been one at some point- I know I have. Even if you have the same internal grievances as a whiner, do not get sucked into complaining with them. There is nothing worse for morale than a constant whiner and a “no” person.

Switch the conversation to focus on a possible solution and help them to channel the whining energy into one that can produce results.

Some people actually find pleasure in complaining about everything. Usually, these people would not accept advice on how they could solve a problem or may agree that there is a solution but fail to take action. In these circumstances, you’re better off simply shutting down a complaint the next time one arises.

Serve up a sandwich

Someone could be extremely good at what they do but possess that one trait that overshadows the good. let them know this by acknowledging the good they do first.

They’ll be more inclined to give a listening ear to the critique that follows. Afterwards, be sure to round up the conversation with a good quality and how it can be enhanced by following through on improving the one trait that makes them difficult. This is a technique known as the Feedback Sandwich.

Be Open and Honest

People respect a frank person. You have to tell it like it is, especially when the subtle ways of getting the point across fail.

Tell them what you and others around them think about them but reassure them that it isn’t too late to make a turnaround. If you’ve been in a similar situation before, share it with them if you feel comfortable enough and tell them what you did to improve.

Honesty and humility go to the heart of a well-meaning person who may not be aware of the impact they’re having on the ones around them.

What Not To Do

Crack jokes if they express disdain towards you.

Be serious with persons who clearly show little regard for you.

Allow them to disrespect you/ make verbal attacks

You’ll lose respect. Stand up to it right away. If you don’t do it right away, then speak to them privately afterwards and tell them plainly that you didn’t appreciate it. Do not, however, match attack with attack. Things can go downhill quickly.

Be Pretensive with a difficult person

You will only hurt yourself emotionally.

Maintain the Psychological Advantage

Unfortunately, no matter what you do, you’re going to cross the paths of people who are either set in their ways or so full of hate that they refuse to be kind and treat others with a level of respect.

On the other hand, there will be the ones who are completely oblivious to the way they’re treating you. And it’ll be up to you whether you carry on ignoring it, or standing up to them.

In all interactions, remember to keep your mental and emotional well-being safe. If you need to remove yourself from a situation, by all means, do that. Life is too short to be hung up on the unscrupulous actions of others.

Go forth and be great!

Visit my website for more:



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Susanna J

Susanna J

A Caribbean small-island millennial writing about life and improving it.