How To Handle Difficult People In Your Relationships

Some people know the art of being difficult to all. They spew negativity and dissatisfaction at everything and everyone.

Think of any negative emotion — anger, resentment, frustration, disgust, hatred — and they have it all. They will humiliate you without any hesitation. They will not cooperate with you, especially if you are junior or younger to them.

At work, difficult people frequently defy their supervisors and seek ways to discredit their coworkers. Worse, they never even consider making improvements.

Trying to change them could leave you feeling helpless and stressed. It’s much easier and safer to break away from them.

However, if you’re in a relationship with a difficult person, like a partner, spouse, or even a coworker, you can’t just walk away; you will need to learn how to handle them.

how to deal with a difficult person

6 Ways To Handle Difficult People In Relationships

The first key is to recognize they want control over the situation. They are hypersensitive to threats to their authority, but they are frequently unable to express their thoughts or needs.

The second key is to keep your interactions with them to a bare minimum, such as once or none in a day. Trying to deal with the tantrums of a difficult person all the time is, well, difficult.

Here are six effective strategies to handle a difficult person:

1. Show Courage, In Words And Actions.

Courage against their rage takes determination to face your fears. You don’t have to act helpless today because you were helpless before them yesterday. With one bold action, you can replace your learned helplessness with learned optimism.

When you know you are right, let that conviction be your courage. For the Stoics, courage is a top-level virtue. They feel, if a person does not have it, they cannot successfully practice the other three cardinal virtues of Stoicism.

Courage brings assertiveness, the ability to express your thoughts and needs. When you are assertive, you also encourage the other person to be honest about their feelings.

Ask them open questions, like “What do you want to be done next?” Accept their answers. Then tell them straight if you can or cannot do it.

Boldness is an everyday effort. Don’t back down once you have taken a stand.

2. Listen Actively, Without Assumptions.

When you imagine meanings and draw assumptions while listening to them, you often judge them wrongly. These judgments then make you hear distorted versions of their stories.

Instead, listen actively.

In simple words, active listening means you actively make efforts to listen to what they are saying, and making sure you clearly understand what they mean.

Ask them what they really mean when you see gaps in your understanding. A simple way is to say, “I couldn’t get that. Could you tell me more about it?”

Communication is most fruitful when we understand what we’re talking about rather than leaving things part-assumed and part-presumed.

Don’t interrupt while they’re talking. Don’t peer into your phone while listening.

3. Remain Calm: Before, During, And After.

The first challenge is how to maintain your serenity while interacting with them. Often, your calmness goes for a toss before you see them, and lasts long after you’re away from them.

It begins with your imagination. Your stress starts piling long before you actually meet them. So, when you face them, your peace is already in pieces.

The solution is to keep your reactivity within limits. There are ways you can train yourself to stimulate your vagus nerve to calm yourself. You may try diaphragmatic breathing when you feel the stress rising.

Ponder on what they are saying and wait to form your response instead of shooting off your mouth. It activates your higher brain and disengages your amygdalar reaction.

Pose yourself in a calm, neutral way. Don’t curse or insult.

4. Empathize With Them; Show Compassion.

When you go into the interaction with a difficult person with an empathic demeanor, you don’t let them dominate your emotions. You are prepared to accept their stand.

Feelings of empathy make you react less to their irritating behavior. Empathy makes you want to understand their issues and feelings.

With empathy, you choose to see things from their perspective. When you see them, you no longer need to agree or disagree with them because your values are different.

Showing compassion is going a step further. Once you clearly understand their concerns and know exactly what they want, carry out your actions with compassion.

Emotion scientist Paul Ekman says compassion is “a response to the suffering of another person.” When you’re being compassionately helpful to others, you are happier and more positive.

“In order to master compassion, you have to spend time getting to know monsters. When you can do that you will see that there are no monsters, only people that acted like monsters because no one gave them the time or compassion to hear their story.” ― Shannon L. Alder

If you can’t do it, tell them you can’t, but don’t do things out of irritation or coercion.

5. Pick Up The Nonverbal Signs Without Telling.

When a difficult person says one thing, but their body language suggests a different thing, often they are not aware of it. They are doing it subconsciously.

Keep an eye out for the inconsistencies in their words and actions. If you fail to pick up those signals, they may mislead you into a situation where you will make a mistake and incur their wrath again.

Understanding their body language can reveal to you their true intentions much earlier. It can save you from laboring out in a fog of confusion.

On the flip side, exude confidence and uprightness in your words, gestures, body language, and facial expressions.

Don’t turn a blind eye to your intuitions. Don’t tell them you saw their gestures betray their words.

6. Things Not To Do When Dealing With A Difficult Person.

▪ Do not put yourself through harm to earn their praise.

▪ Do not offer explanations for not having done what they wanted.

▪ Do not seek their approval or try to fulfill each of their expectations.

▪ Do not think about them too much. Do not plot revenge against them.

▪ Do not compromise your values. Do not sacrifice your identity for them.

▪ Do not take responsibility for their behaviors. Do not defend their actions.

▪ Do not expect them to change their opinions about you, or feel your pain.

▪ Do not sour your mood or darken your days if they made you feel miserable.

▪ Do not tolerate them because you think you will not have a better alternative.

Final Words

Remember, you can change only yourself, not them. So, set out to change your behavior to appear more assertive, yet empathic, to the difficult persons in your life.

Sometimes, you may need to step away from them for a while. Do so if you feel you are unable to control your reaction in their presence.

But come back confident the next time you face them.

Train yourself on how do you want to appear to them. Practice your posture, expressions, tone, and delivery, in front of a mirror or a close friend. Prepare your responses beforehand. Learn to hold eye contact.

Make sure if you are the difficult person in their lives. If yes, change into a better version of yourself.

Finally, if it becomes evident that it’s impossible to deal with them in a civilized manner, consider ending the relationship. Remember, removing a difficult person from your life who will never stop disparaging you is eventually for your own good.

When you break up, block them from your emails, phonebook, and social media, and avoid them at common gatherings. Make a clean break.

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.

• Our story: Happiness Project

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