6 Ways to Deal with Difficult People

Difficult people have a way of effortlessly making a great day go bad. When it’s not possible to avoid these people--you know, because they are family, or a coworker, or seated next to you at a dinner party--it’s time to to plan your reaction.

It’s important to, as Deepak Chopra writes, take responsibility for your part in the interaction. Detach yourself from the feelings they inspire within you so you can talk without dealing with a reaction that may be hard to conceal or deal with internally. Once that is mastered, you can try to work through what it is about them that is so difficult.

Here are the basic types of *difficulties* which might earn someone that descriptor:

1. Clinger

These folks want to be loved and taken care of, and will do anything for the person who meets those needs. You can’t avoid a clinger--they’re like Velcro--and you can’t take a neutral stance, since that will aggravate them, and creates an enemy. The best way to deal with them is to give them a task, as you would child, and train them to do things their own way instead of by your instruction. By showing them their own strength, you reduce the clinginess.

2. Controllers

With a seemingly endless string of criticisms about everything (but mostly about things in which they have zero business), controllers are never to blame and always have an excuse. Even when faced with evidence proving they are wrong about something, they still won’t back down, and will probably dig in their heels even more, because facts don’t matter to them...only being right. The only way to combat a controlling type is to refuse to engage in their contest. It might drive them crazy, because their worth is based on building up themselves at the expense of others, but hey. That’s their problem.

3. Competitors

Everything is a competition. Even if you stand your ground and ‘win,’ so to speak, they’ll jump ship and abandon you (metaphorically) just to swim to their own island and set up camp there. Extended metaphors aside, these difficult people are best handled by simply letting them think they have won. Present reasonable facts, and chances are they’ll come around (with some sort of quantifying statement to reaffirm your information...but still emphasize their righteousness).

4. Selfies

Self-important people seem to talk simply to hear their own voices. Fortunately, they tend to forget whatever it was they said, so they’re fairly ineffective. Unfortunately, there’s no real strategy other than sitting back and letting them talk themselves blue.

5. Complainers

They’re bitter and angry at the world; in reality, though, the real source of the hostile feelings is internal. Until they deal with whatever those issues are, they have an endless inner stream of magma fueling their anger. Like the selfies, there’s no real strategy for getting around these folks. The best you can do is avoid them and hope that their rage is set to simmer when you can’t.

6. Victims

Passive-aggressive people who inflict wrong on others by inflicting it on themselves first. They might be responsible for a portion of a work project, but never deliver, pushing the burden on to you. When it comes time to be held responsible, they claim some inner issue prevented them from participating. The fact that you were inconvenienced isn’t acknowledged.  Victims are looking for people who will commiserate, but not for real advice. The best way to handle victims is to do just that: if someone is worried about losing their job, offer to look over their resume instead of saying ‘Poor you.’  If they can’t work on something because their computer is broken, offer to share yours.


In the end, most difficult people are just looking for someone to listen to them. The quote to ‘be kind, for everyone is fighting their own battle’ is something to hold as a kind of mantra in these scenarios. Or, for classic rock fans, practical psychology is kind of like gambling: you got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and know when to walk (or run) away.