12 Ways to Deal with Difficult People – The Best Approach

A valuable life skill is to know ways to deal with difficult people although it can be challenging. It often involves a combination of patience, empathy, assertiveness, and self-care.

This article discusses important strategies to adopt in dealing with difficult people. These skills apply at home in your relationships and also in the workplace. Learn to tailor your approach to the specific situation and the individual you are dealing with.

Learn to Take Charge

Accept, change or reject. Know that ultimately you only have three choices. Ultimately , you may have to accept the situation knowing it will not change. 

Attempt to change your relationship with them by changing how you react. Learning to take charge is possibly the most important of the ways to deal with difficult people.

Learn How to Position Yourself

Non-verbally position yourself at their eye level. For example, if they are sitting when you talk with them, sit. If they are standing, stand. Converse at their level. This is the best approach of the ways to deal with difficult people.

Stay Calm

Keep your emotions in check. When you remain calm, you’re better equipped to handle difficult individuals. . Ignoring often doesn’t work. The tension becomes so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Do not take it personally because often they are difficult because of something going on with them.

Also, do not lose emotional control. Antagonists and passive-aggressive individuals will often try to push your buttons. Watch your mental state. Do not let them drag you down. A little of that can be normal but do not allow it to go on.

Remember the person who constantly angers you, or constantly intimidates you, controls you.

Set Boundaries

It is necessary to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Do not let someone’s negativity or aggression affect your well-being.

Practice Patience

Change may take time. Be patient with the person and with yourself.

Attempt to understand what is driving that difficult behavior. Get at the root cause, even if you only try to figure it out in your own mind.

You cannot control the event, but you can certainly control the outcome based on how you react or respond. Be careful how you respond!

Ways to Deal with Difficult People – Watch Your Tone of Voice

Watch your tone of voice. Avoid using an autocratic, sarcastic or condescending tone. Did you know that the Latin root of the word “sarcasm” is “sarco” meaning tearing of the flesh?

In face-to-face communication, words account for 7% of what people notice and believe about you. Tone is 38% and body language 55%.  So a full 93% is tone and body language.

Woman shouting into a megaphone at a man talking quietly in her ear  - Ways to Deal with Difficult People
Woman shouting into a megaphone at a man talking quietly in her ear

Choice of Words

Give sincere positive reinforcement when they do something well, and always show genuine appreciation.

Often difficult people are difficult because they feel unappreciated.

Avoid “but.” No “but’s” allowed!  For example, don’t follow giving them positive reinforcement with, “But on the other hand…”

The word “but” only negates everything positive you just said.

Avoid the word “need” when possible and use “want” instead.

Saying politely and tactfully, “John, I want to have the project in to me by noon so that we’ll meet our deadline. “Want” is more assertive as long as it’s in the right tone.

Avoid absolutes such as, “You always” and “You never.” It puts difficult people further on the defensive.

No one can get your goat if they don’t know where it’s tied up

Zig Ziglar

Choose Your Battles

Not every issue is worth engaging in. Sometimes, it’s best to let minor things go, disengage and remove yourself from a toxic or unproductive situation.

Learn to choose your battles. There are times when you have to “let it go.” Know when to speak up and when to pick your battles.

Avoid being around difficult people when they are in a bad mood. If they are always in a bad mood, try being around them when they are in a “better” mood!


Treat them with respect, even if they aren’t doing the same. Rising above their behavior can be a powerful message. Maintain respect for them – even if you disagree or dislike them. At least acknowledge what they say. Think about how you would want to be treated.

Actively Listen

Take the time to actively listen to their perspective. Sometimes, people just want to be heard. Listen more effectively. Listening is the number one tool in communication, especially when dealing with difficult people.

Try to understand their point of view and feelings. Empathy can defuse tension. Seek first to understand then to be understood, especially when dealing with difficult people.

Avoid Blame

Boss sitting on the head of a female employees and screaming at her on the megaphone - Ways to Deal with Difficult People
Boss sitting on the head of a female employees and screaming at her on the megaphone

Instead of blaming, focus on finding solutions. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and concerns. Criticize in person, but praise in public.

Never publicly criticize someone as you will look like the bad guy and the difficult person will only become more upset.


Remember that dealing with difficult people is a part of life. Keep the bigger picture in mind and do not let these encounters define your overall happiness. Step back and analyze the situation from an outside perspective. 

When we are less emotionally involved and “cool our jets,” the answers come for how to effectively deal with them.

Whether dealing with a difficult boss, dealing with a difficult co-worker, or spouse, learn to consider their perspective.

Try to understand what might be causing them to act this way. There may be underlying issues you’re unaware of. People often won’t care what you think unless they think you care. At least attempt to see it from their perspective.

Communicate Clearly

Express your thoughts and feelings calmly and assertively. Be clear about your needs and expectations. Strive for greater communication. Often, it is not that there is not enough communication, it is just that it is bad communication.

So work on improving your conflict resolution skills. If you are a manager, consider training everyone in conflict resolution.

One of the main reasons teams fail is because some of the people on the team do not like each other, or are not skilled in handling conflict. Invest in communication skills courses and conflict resolution skills courses to improve the part you can control – you.

Be Solution-Oriented

Always seek to find find common ground. Seek areas of agreement or common interest to build rapport. Instead of dwelling on the problem, focus on finding solutions that benefit everyone involved.

If appropriate, offer constructive feedback on the behavior of the difficult individual when they have cooled off.. Be specific and avoid personal attacks.

Sometimes, it might be impossible to find common ground. Mutually agree to move on. Agree to disagree. If this is not possible, at least “move on” in your own mind.

Seek Support

Talk to friends, family, or a therapist about your experiences if you find theses experiences are frequent and you find it becoming more and more difficult to handle. They can provide valuable perspectives and emotional support.

Take care of your physical and emotional well-being. You’ll be better equipped to handle difficult people when you’re in a good state of mind.

Learn and Grow

Every interaction with a difficult person can be a learning opportunity. Use these experiences to develop your own communication and conflict resolution skills.

Holding onto grudges can be emotionally draining. Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning their behavior but releasing the negative energy associated with it.

If possible, minimize your interactions with difficult individuals. Sometimes distance is the best solution.
Maintain the high expectations and standards if you are managing this employee. If you do not do this you will be seen as enabling their unacceptable behavior.


Use the 12 ways to deal with difficult people not only in your business but also in your personal life and see the difference it makes in your relationships – for the better.

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Vermani, M (2022) Deal with Difficult People https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/deeper-wellness/202211/how-deal-difficult-people

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