6 Valuable pieces of advice for dealing with difficult people

In my capacity as a coach, I am constantly asked for advice for dealing with difficult people. Relationships can be wonderful but they are not always easy. We will often encounter difficulties. Sometimes we are the cause of the difficulties; sometimes it is the other person and there are times when the difficulties are caused by circumstances beyond either person's control. So, the first piece of advice for dealing with difficult people really should be to make sure that the other person is the source of the problem. Before you go throwing stones (metaphorically speaking) you want to be sure that you have your facts straight.

Key Point

The next piece of advice for dealing with difficult people should be that there is no such thing as difficult people. The truth is that the difficulty is not the person themselves but a pattern of behaviour which they choose to use. It is also possible that they don't use that pattern of behaviour with everyone. It may just be you who is on the receiving end. So, remember that the problem is not the person, it is the behaviour.

However, as it is quite common to use the term 'difficult people' and it ensures that we all have the same understanding, I choose to use the term. Just remember that it is the behaviour you want to deal with, not the person.

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Advice for dealing with difficult people

I would like to think that you already understand those first two pieces of advice for dealing with difficult people so, I am going to give you 6 more pieces of advice which help you deal with difficult people more effectively.

1

Be proactive

advice for dealing with difficult people cannot-change

You cannot change another person. You only have control over how you respond and what you do and say.

My readers send me emails on a regular basis. The majority of them are about communication and relationship issues. Rather disapointingly, they almost always point at the other person being the total problem and ask how they can get the other person to change. This is a reactive, blame-ridden approach to relationships and it causes more problems than it will every solve. What's worse is that when we are not being proactive, we are guilty of taking this approach because it's more comforting to put the total blame on the other person.

Relationships take more than one person. They are a combination of the two people involved so, whatever is going on in the relationship, you are at least partly responsible for it. This is the one piece of advice for dealing with difficult people that nobody likes to hear but it is actually an empowering thing. If you are partly responsible for what has become of the relationship, you can change your thoughts, words and actions and consequently, change the whole dynamic of the relationship.

In fact, the only way you can change a relationship is by changing yourself. When you do so, you hope that the changes you make will influence the other person to change. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Am I displaying the behaviour I expect of the other person?
  • Am I displaying the attitude I expect of the other person?
  • What can I do to demonstrate that I am willing to have open, honest and respectful dialogue?
  • Am I focusing on the behaviour rather than the person?
  • Have I clearly communicated my wants and needs?

The questions above are just a starting point but when you start asking yourself these questions, and you are honest with your answers, you will find that you start to become more proactive in your attempts to deal with difficult people.

Key Point

If you have genuinely tried to change yourself and your role in the relationship, without any success, you may need to consider whether you should be dealing with this person at all. Or, whether you can reduce the frequency with which you have to deal with them.

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2

Control your reaction

advice for dealing with difficult people how-you-react

It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

Life is unpredictable. Anything can and will go wrong. There is no point getting angry and irritated at every little thing that doesn't go your way. Just as you must change yourself in order to change the dynamic of a relationship; you must change your behaviour to change a negative situation.

Once something negative has happened, you cannot go back in time to prevent it happening. Too many people spend their time complaining and whining when something goes wrong but that doesn't help anyone as it is reactive. You are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. What you should be doing is focusing on getting the horse back into the stable and ensuring that he can't bolt again. This is good advice for dealing with difficult people because as you long as you complain about the horse bolting; the horse remains free and is going to be harder to get back.

So, next time that someone treats you badly, your first focus should be on minimising the damage i.e. getting the horse back into the stable. Then you can deal with the person for the way they treated you. You will find that once you are confident that the damage has been contained, you will be able to deal with the situation in a more rational and calmer manner.

Key Point

In many cases, there won't appear to be any potential for the situation to get any worse. In this situation, your first job is to calm yourself down. Because if you don't, you are likely to make matters worse with a fiery and hostile response. You never want to respond or react from an angry place.


3

Stay calm

advice for dealing with difficult people stay-calm

It's possible to stay calm even when dealing with difficult people.

Probably the most important advice for dealing with difficult people is to remain calm. When you are calm, you are in control of yourself, your thoughts and your actions. The importance of being calm and controllled under pressure cannot be overstated. And make no mistake about it, when you are dealing with a difficult person or situation, you are under pressure.

Let me illustrate the need to be calm and in control under pressure with a very different example - driving. Most people, with a driving licence, think they can drive safely. Given the fact that they have a licence; it is safe to assume that they can do so. While we hear a lot about terrible road accidents, most people do drive safely. However, the majority of accidents seem to happen when one of the following occurs:

  • Someone is driving over the speed limit
  • Someone is driving at a speed unsafe for the road conditions
  • Somebody has consumed too much alcohol or drugs (legal or illegal)
  • Somebody is tired
  • Someone is distracted e.g. on the phone, changing the radio etc.

In each of the cases outlined above, the driver does not have the same level of calmness or control. The reasons for the reduced calmness and control may include:

  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Reduced concentration
  • Divided attention i.e. trying to do more than one thing at a time
  • Reaction times are slower

While the driving example may seem unusual for this article, I would like to think that you can see how not remaining calm and in control under pressure can have devastating results. The negative consequences of not remaining calm and in control when dealing with difficult people may not be as devastating but you can destroy relationships by overreacting.

When you remain calm, measured and in control, you are able to think with greater clarity. You don't panic and your response will be more appropriate. Just as being calm and in control would allow you drive in a manner which is safe for the conditions; it will allow you to behave and respond in a manner which is appropriate for the conditions you are facing when dealing with a difficult person..

Key Point

If you are not able to remain calm after being treated badly, it is better to walk away and allow yourself to calm down before dealing with the situation. Once calmed down, you may even find you don't need to respond.


4

Remain respectful and dignified

advice for dealing with diffiuclt poeple respect

Show respect even to people who don't deserve it - not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.

When you are treated disrespectfully, it is easy to return fire and treat that person with a lack of respect. That is a reactive way to respond and 9 times out of 10 it will make the situation worse. The better response is to remain respectful and dignified.

It is important to remember that how people treat you is not a reflection of who you are. It reflects who they are. If they behave in a disrespectful manner, it doesn't say that you are not worthy of respect; it says that they are someone who behaves disrespectfully.

As the late Wayne Dyer said, you teach people how to treat you. This can be helped by setting limits and boundaries, which I will discuss in a moment. However, the best way to teach people how to treat you is by demonstrating the attitudes and behaviours you expect. You do that by behaving in that manner. By treating others with respect and remaining dignified, even in the face of disrespect.

There are many reasons why you should be respectful when faced with a difficult person. The following are some of the most important:

  • If they are looking for conflict, they will see that they won't get it
  • It shows that you are willing to listen
  • The other person may just be having a bad day; we all have them
  • Respectful behaviour encourages respect
  • It can take the heat out of the situation
  • It is a sign of the great person you wish to be

Nobody enjoys being treated badly. If somebody treats you badly, it may be important to deal with it. If it happens more than once, you really do need to deal with it and lay down a marker for what you expect. But as you go through life you realise that the behaviour which is most important in your life is your behaviour. How others behave will only have a temporary impact on your life. The impact of how you behave may be with you for the rest of your life. So, even when others stoop to the depths, hold your head high and hold yourself to the standards you expect of yourself.

Key Point

Remaining respectful and dignified does not mean that you have to take garbage from people. It just means that you behave in accordance with your own standards and find the most respectful way to deal with the situation.


5

Set limits and boundaries

advice for dealing with difficult people set-limits

Sometimes it becomes necessary to set limits when dealing with difficult people.

As already mentioned, you need to be respectful and dignified when dealing with difficult people. Unfortunately, many people think that means you have to put up with whatever the other person throws at you. But that is not the case. It is perfectly acceptable, even recommended, that you set limits and boundaries for what you are prepared to tolerate.

We are living in a world where people are so unaccustomed to standing up for themselves that they don't recognise assertive behaviour when they see it. They think that somebody who is speaking up or, standing their ground, is being aggressive. In most cases, the person doing so is just exercising their assertiveness rights.

You have the right to be assertive and you can even be proactive about it by setting boundaries and limits When you set boundaries and limits and you reinforce them, people come to know what is acceptable and they often don't push the boundaries because they know it won't be tolerated. You can set any boundary or limit you like, in any area of your life. The following are just some examples:

  • You won't tolerate violence
  • You will not accept abuse or insults
  • You will not lend money
  • You expect your personal property to be treated with respect
  • You have the right to say No
  • Boundaries around your time e.g. when you are and are not available

When you set a boundary or limit, you should also have a consequence for someone who crosses that boundary e.g. if someone is abusive towards you, you might cut them out of your life.

Another way to set a limit is to reduce your exposure to the difficult person. If they refuse to try and deal with their difficult behaviour, you can choose to cut them out of your life entirely or reduce the amount of time you spend in their presence.

Key Point

It is you who must decide the right boundaries and limits to set for your life. This should be based on what you want from your life and how you want to live your life. Set boundaries and limits which serve you; not others.​

You can improve your communication and relationship skills with my FREE Checklist - Do's and Don'ts of Dealing with Difficult People.


6

Practice positive affirmations

dealing with difficult people positive-affirmations

The use of daily positive affirmations can improve your confidence in dealing with difficult people.

There are people who would have you believe that positive affirmations are the solution to everything. As if you have nothing to do but tell yourself that things are going to be different and, change will magically appear. I don't believe that positive daily affirmations are quite that powerful but when you are trying to make changes in your life, they are a very useful tool in your toolbox. That is why they make it onto my list of advice for dealing with difficult people.

Every day, you have thousands of thoughts. Some experts estimate that it is somewhere around 60,000 but it may be even more. In addition to this, you receive thousands of messages from others daily - from friends, family, marketers etc.

Your thoughts and the messages you receive on a daily basis, impact what you believe and consequently, how you behave. For example, if you constantly tell yourself that you can't deal with difficult people and, that message is enforced by others; you are likely to believe that you cannot deal with difficult people. And, if you believe that you can't deal with difficult people, you are likely to struggle to do so. In some cases, you might not even try.

So, if your thoughts and the messages you receive are so powerful and influential, why not try to take charge of them? You can feed yourself positive thoughts to shape your beliefs; using daily positive affirmations. If you constantly tell yourself that you can deal with difficult people and, seek out evidence to support it, you will start to believe that you can deal with difficult people; thus, increasing your chances of doing so.

Key Point

Daily positive affirmations will certainly help you to improve your belief that you can deal with difficult people but you need to reinforce this belief by taking positive action, accepting responsibility and dealing with the difficult people in your life.​

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Conclusion

There is plenty of advice for dealing with difficult people but in this article, I have tried to stick to the core pieces of advice which will have the greatest impact on your dealings. These nuggets of advice are about developing and maintaining the correct mindset to help you deal with difficult people more effectively. If you are struggling in this area, pick the piece of advice which resonates most with you and start implementing it. When you feel comfortable with that, move on to the next piece. Eventually, you will work your way through all the advice for dealing with difficult people and your confidence and results will have improved significantly.