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General Dealing With Difficult People

Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Dealing with Dificult People 101

Dealing with difficult people can make your life and your job miserable. Beyond a point, you cannot control difficult people. You can only control how you react to them. If these difficult people consistently anger or intimidate you, or simply rattle your cage, they ultimately control you. In dealing with difficult people, it begs us to ask the question, "Might I be a difficult person?!" We can all possess difficult people traits, but what about those individuals who are this way all the time?

3 Tips to Remember When Dealing with Difficult People

1) First learn and understand their behavior patterns. When are these people most difficult? What types of behavior makes them difficult people? Are they difficult only with you or with others as well?
2) Don’t argue with overly aggressive or excessively difficult people. These individuals often have a desire for dissension and thrive on chaos. By arguing and wanting to "win" it only adds fuel to the fire.
3) Don’t take their behavior personally. Often, they are impossible to be around because of something going on with them.

5 Common Types of Difficult People

Complainer/Whiner/Negativist: Research shows these difficult people often have an excessive need to be liked and want sympathy. By complaining and being negative, they think they’ll gain attention. These difficult people gain attention but not in a positive way. It pays to be tactfully direct with the negativist. For example, saying to them, "I understand this is something you want to talk about, and at the same time I want to make sure I get back to performing my work." Dealing with difficult people this way will usually cause them to move on to someone else; a more "captive audience" who they think will listen to their excessive whining.

Another key phrase is to say, "Pat, I want to bring something to your attention, and you may not even be aware of it. When you come in to work first thing in the morning complaining to the other staff about our new policy, it’s beginning to look like a lot of negativity. I just wanted to mention it because you may not be aware of how you’re coming across." If you think they’re already aware of it, explain it to them anyway. Dealing with difficult people requires diplomacy and tact.

Know-it-All: Listen and know what drives them. When dealing with a know-it-all like this, ask yourself if they seem to have an excessive need for control. Or, do they seem insecure, but want to appear to have all the facts on just about everything? Maybe these difficult people are threatened by you. First, let the know-it-all vent within reason. Often, once they’ve let out all their "hot air," then they’ll be more likely to listen to you. If not, and they start talking over you, it may be necessary to say, "So and so, I really have listened to everything you have to say about such-and-such, and if you’d give me just a moment, I can help you as far as….." Be direct, yet polite and tactful

Exploder: When dealing with difficult people such as the exploder proceed with caution. Wait until they’re finished "erupting" and have "cooled their jets." You may be better off not saying much at all. Approach them again when they are in a good mood. If they are never in a good mood, approach them when they are in a better mood.

Sniper: Dealing with difficult people who stealthily throw little digs your way are tricky contenders. After they toss innuendos in a sometimes sarcastic tone and you show that you’re hurt, they accuse you of having "no sense of humor."

In this case, consider ignoring them altogether. In the future they’ll be less likely to throw in little digs because they won’t get the reaction they’re looking for from you. As Zig Ziglar once said, "No one can get your goat if they don’t know where it’s tied up."

Gossip: These difficult people either are bored, don’t have enough to occupy their time, or simply like to make others look bad and themselves look good. Gossips don’t realize that when they’re gossiping about everyone else, that people are silently wondering, "I wonder what she/he says about me when I’m not around?!" Sometimes gossips "gossip" as a distraction and to procrastinate important tasks.

Often what they’re gossiping about doesn’t even affect them. Next time this happens, listen intently, then politely say, "And how does this affect you?" They’ll get the point. Be very careful, however, with your tone of voice. You do not want to come across at all as sarcastic. Besides, the latin root of "sarcasm" is "sarco" meaning tearing of the flesh!

Difficult People = Different People

It’s been said that difficult people are often "different" people. Often a person appears difficult because they are so different from us. Dealing with difficult people isn’t easy. It takes practice to learn how to deal with them effectively.

If you are forced to interact with certain difficult people at times consider the following: keep the conversation light. Talk about "news, weather, and sports" and nothing else. Don’t let them press those buttons!

- Colleen Kettenhofen


Dealing with Difficult People: 27 Tips
by Colleen Kettenhofen

“No one can get your goat if they don’t know where it’s tied up.”
Zig Ziglar

  1. Listen better. Listening is the #1 tool in communication.
  2. Step back and analyze the situation from an outside perspective. Often when we are less emotionally involved and “cool our jets” the answers come for how to effectively deal with difficult people.
  3. Ignoring often doesn’t work. The tension becomes so thick you can cut it with a knife.
  4. Choose your battles. There are times when you have to let it go. Know when to speak up and when to pick your battles with difficult people.
  5. Criticize in person, praise in public. Never publicly criticize someone as you will look like the bad guy and the difficult person will only become more upset.
  6. Maintain respect for them – even if you disagree or dislike them. Think about how you would want to be treated.
  7. Seek first to understand, then to be understood - especially with difficult people.
  8. People often won’t care what you think unless they know you care. At least attempt to see it from their perspective.
  9. Maintain high expectations and standards if they are your employee. If you don’t do this you will be seen as enabling their unacceptable behavior.
  10. Strive for greater communication. Often it’s not that there isn’t enough communication, it’s that it’s bad communication. So work on improving your conflict resolution skills. If you are in a managerial role, consider training everyone in conflict resolution. One of the main reasons teams fail is because some of the people on the team don’t like each other.
  11. Invest in communication and conflict resolution skills courses to improve the part you can control – you.
  12. Don’t lose emotional control. Antagonists, “Passive-Aggressives,” and other difficult people will often try to push your buttons.
  13. Avoid being around them when they’re in a bad mood. If these difficult people are always in a bad mood, try being around them when they are in a “better” mood.
  14. Accept, change or reject. Know that ultimately you only have 3 choices. Accept the situation knowing it won’t change. Or, attempt to change your relationship with them by changing how you react. Or, if it’s really affecting your well being, it may be time to “reject” the situation or move on.
  15. No “but’s” allowed! Don’t follow giving difficult people positive reinforcement with, “But on the other hand…” The word “but” only negates everything good you just said. And remember, “Anything before ‘but’ is B.S!”
  16. In dealing with difficult people, 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Watch your tone of voice. Avoid an autocratic or sarcastic tone. The Latin root of the word “sarcasm” is “sarco” meaning tearing of the flesh!
  19. In face-to-face communication, words account for only 7% of what people notice and believe about you. Tonality is 38% and body language 55%. So a full 93% is tone and body language!
  20. When dealing with difficult people, give sincere positive reinforcement when they do something well. Show genuine appreciation. Often difficult people are difficult because they feel unappreciated.
  21. Avoid absolutes such as, “You always” and “You never,” with difficult people. It puts them further on the defensive.
  22. Don’t take it personally. Difficult people are sometimes difficult because of something going on with them.
  23. Watch your mental state. Don’t let them drag you down. A little of that can be normal but don’t allow it to go on.
  24. Remember the person who constantly angers you, or constantly intimidates you controls you.
  25. Mutually agree to move on. Agree to disagree. If this isn’t possible, at least move on in your own mind.
  26. Really attempt to understand what’s driving that difficult behavior. Get at the root cause, even if you only try to figure it out in your own mind.
  27. Remember the formula E + R = 0. Event + Reaction = Outcome. You can’t control the event , but you can control the outcome based on how you react or respond. Just be careful how you respond.
For example, there’s the story of the couple who were divorcing. A neighbor said to the wife, “Do you think you’d ever get back together?” She replied, “You know, we have said things to each other that are so horrible, that even after apologizing they could never be taken back. There is no way we’d get back together.” The moral of the story: be careful what you say because once those words are out they’re hard to take back.

“The disease of me often results in the defeat of us.”

Pat Riley of NBA fame

Canuck Singh

Jun 14, 2008
Can UK
A nice and insightful article based on research, a very valuable and resourceful tool. Most importantly I would say that it lacks the Spiritual 'edge' that could take it to the next level, but if we, including me, are not even capable of this much rationality then it is very valuable indeed.


Feb 25, 2008
A nice and insightful article based on research, a very valuable and resourceful tool. Most importantly I would say that it lacks the Spiritual 'edge' that could take it to the next level, but if we, including me, are not even capable of this much rationality then it is very valuable indeed.[/quote
Canuck Singh ji
· Criticize in person, praise in public. Never publicly criticize someone as you will look like the bad guy and the difficult person will only become more upset.( quote from article posted by soul-jyot Ji)
This is the one I just couldn’t swallow.
Criticizing itself leaves negative effect not only on the one who is criticized but the one who is doing that dirty job. Never ever criticize; just disagree with as much as reasons could be given
As you mentioned spiritual aspect is lacking, I would like to add a little more without any offense to the author and Soul Jyot ji.. Look how many numbers are there the author gives to remember( 27); is it really possible to remember all these while dealing with others? Why not take one simple advice from the spiritual ones who say” take out the root of the weed, live without ego in context of importance of others regardless achievements and sparkling brilliance if one has. Well, only my views, disagreement is welcome.Thanks.

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