How do you handle difficult people? In many cases, we tend to deal with difficult people the same way they are treating us which is with more difficulty. But as you will learn, this is not the best way to handle the situation.
Meeting difficult people with the same energy they are giving will escalate instead of de-escalating the situation, and make matters worse. It is hard to be the bigger person in these scenarios but if someone doesn’t do it, things will quickly fall into a downward spiral that will be more difficult to get out of.
This article is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to direct, advise, treat, or diagnose anything. If you need help in this area please contact a professional who deals with interpersonal relationships and de-escalation of situations.
To see things go through as smoothly as possible it is best to have a calm, and level-headed approach. Below are 8 ways or things you can do to handle difficult people and come out productive.
1- Stay calm
We all have been in situations where people have ignited our anger or gotten under our skin. And we have probably shot back at them for making us feel that way. But, think back, how well did that go? Probably not good at all.
Acting from a state of anger or irateness causes problems to escalate and things to get worse. It can even end up in a physical fight where you, the other person, or people around can get hurt. Before you respond or reply, take a deep breath and detach from what they are saying and how they are acting.
It most likely has nothing to do with you but your problems. Take a bit to collect yourself, tell them you need a few moments before continuing the conversation if need be, and then respond calmly. Remaining calm will get you further and might even help you solve the situation faster.
2- Don’t try to defend yourself
When you’re angry or emotionally charged you might take whatever the other person says personally and want to defend yourself. But doing that might make the other person more revved up and perceive you as a threat.
Putting up walls will make it more difficult for both people to understand each other and come to a resolution. Unconsciously, they will try to break down the other’s walls to get through or establish control.
Try to stay neutral, and let them speak or vent. Somewhere in the words, they use or the way they move is the real reason they are upset. It is not about you, they are probably just reflecting on you because you are the first person they see. Keep calm, and stay neutral.
In whatever situation you find yourself in, listening is very important but not just listening to what people say. Listening to what’s not being said and being aware of your intuition can help you get out of difficult situations. Barbara Markway, psychologist, and Psychology Today contributor, explains in a blog.
“Listening is the number one step in dealing with ‘unreasonable’ people”, says Markway, “Everyone wants to feel heard. No progress can take place until the other person feels acknowledged. While you’re listening, really focus on what the other person is saying, not what you want to say next”.
Pay attention to your inner voice and their non-verbal cues as well.
“If your gut is saying, this is going downhill fast, be ready to do what you need to do to remain safe”, advises Markway on the blog, “Look for an exit strategy”.
4- Be respectful and kind
Even if you feel the need to trade insult with insult, don’t. Remember that at first glance you never truly know what’s going on. Maybe the other person had a bad day or is dealing with something heavy in their life. Although it is hard to be kind to someone that isn’t being kind to you at the moment, the effort on your part can pay off immensely as Mark Apodaca says.
Apodaca, a writer who focuses on communication at work and in relationships, relays in an article for Lifehack his experience with “killing them with kindness”.
“What I have found in almost every difficult situation is kindness goes a lot further than being difficult”, says Apodaca, “When two people are being difficult with each other, the situation tends to escalate to a point where nothing will get accomplished”.
Apodaca continues, “On the other hand, when you use lots of kindness with a difficult person many times, it diffuses the situation and you get more of what you want”.
5- Don’t try to change them or tell them what to do
“When we meet a difficult person, or if we have one in our family or circle of friends, our instinct is to try changing them”, says Vanessa Van Edwards lead investigator at Science of People, “This never works when you try to change someone they tend to resent you, dig in their heels, and get worse”.
Telling someone to calm down does not always work and should be avoided in these situations. If you want to try to move the conversation elsewhere, you might need to let the person say what they need to say first before kindly asking them if you both could move somewhere else.
Barbara Markway, a psychologist with over 20 years of experience, advises to ask the other person if there’s something wrong and to let them vent. Doing this will let the other person feel heard and secure enough to let go of whatever it is they are still holding on to.
6- Understand them
There is a reason they are irate and angry. This reason probably isn’t the thing that is being discussed though. In a lot of cases, it goes deeper or it is not as deep as we think. Asking them what’s the matter, listening to them, and understanding where they are coming from will help everyone.
“The way to disengage a difficult person is to try understanding where they are coming from”, says Vanessa Van Edwards in an article on the Science of People, “I try to find their value language. A value language is what someone values most. It is what drives their decisions.”
Van Edwards explains that, “This not only helps me understand them but also helps them relax and become more open-minded”.
7- Setting Boundaries & Keeping Your Distance
It has been said in this article that you should hold space for the difficult person you’re dealing with, but do not forget to enforce your boundaries as well. It is ok to say tell them that you feel uncomfortable with the way they are talking or moving around. It is ok to stop them if they come too close to you.
In fact, it is advisable that you keep a relatable distance from them and you do not touch them. This is in case things start escalating into something physical. If you are in your workplace, you can look for help from another colleague or boss.
8- Ignore them
If the person you’re dealing with is toxic and none of the peaceful approaches have worked it is time to separate yourself from them and ignore them. Try to spend as little time with them as possible. Slowly start peeling them away from your life and reality. Eventually, they will look for someone else to pester or find another business to suit their needs.
After dealing with this situation it is best if you find your own outlet to let go of all the emotions you withheld during the event. Acknowledge your success, and keep ongoing.
Do you find any of these tips helpful? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to check out our Youtube channel for more about psychology, relationships, and people.
Apodaca, M. (2020, January 6). How to Deal with Difficult People: 10 Expert Techniques. Lifehack. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/how-deal-with-difficult-people.html
Edwards, V. V. (2021, October 25). 4 Types of Difficult People and How to Deal With Them. Science of People. https://www.scienceofpeople.com/difficult-people/
Markway, B. (2015, March 3). 20 Expert Tactics for Dealing with Difficult People. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/living-the-questions/201503/20-expert-tactics-dealing-difficult-people