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  • Writer's pictureBob Prentice


We’ve all experienced people who are rude, cruel, angry, or hurtful toward us. It might be a co-worker, a family member, or person behind the check-out counter. Whoever it is, and wherever the situation, you feel you are not being treated fairly and you aren’t sure what to do about it.

Here are a few tips I have found helpful in dealing with the difficult people in my own life. I hope they will help you, as well.

  • Be kind. Though the human response it often to lash back in anger or frustration, always respond kindly. After all, you don’t have all the facts, so you don’t know why they are being so “difficult”. They actually may have a pretty good reason why they are acting the way they are. Remember that hurting people hurt people, so treat the difficult person as though their heart is breaking, because chances are, it is.

  • Get clarification. It is generally best not to make statements, but to ask questions, in order to clarify the intention of the difficult person, and to assure that there is no misunderstanding on your part. For example, you could ask, "I'm not sure that I understand what you meant by that remark; can you explain it to me?"

  • Be honest. When dealing with a difficult person the worst thing you can do is to bottle up your irritation, anger, annoyance or feelings of hurt. Inevitably this will make the situation worse. When someone offends you, let them know how you feel in a way that avoids any indication of accusation.

  • Allow them to express their feelings. Just as you need to express your feelings, you also need to know how the other person feels about what's going on or what you're doing. Don't try to guess what someone else is thinking because you may be incorrect in your assumption, so it probably best to simply ask them. Try to find out about what they are feeling and ask their opinion. Avoid the temptation to coach or limit an answer by offering multiple choices; instead use open-ended questions. Rather than saying, "Tell me, do you like my idea a lot or a little?", try saying, "Jane, what do you think about the idea?"

  • Keep calm. This may seem simple and obvious advice but it's not easy to do. If you can stay calm and polite, you have a better chance of not escalating a difficult situation into an impossible one. It also gives you the opportunity to withdraw from the conversation if the difficult person's behavior accelerates from irritating to unbearable. You can postpone the interaction by saying something like, "Joe, I'm speaking calmly and courteously to you and I need the same in return. Let's talk about this later when you've have a chance to calm down."

  • See the possibilities. Rather than allowing difficult people to become your excuse for doing less than your best, learn to see these challenges as opportunities to do your part in making this world a better place.

Here are a some things NOT to do...

  • Take things personally. While dealing with a difficult person can make you pretty frustrated–even drive you a bit crazy–it's important to realize that it's not really about you, and you probably shouldn’t take things too personally. Difficult people care very little about you. Their focus is on themselves, only themselves. The reality is you are a blip on their radar screen, and you are only important if you happen to get in the way between them and what they want, or to the extent that they need you to get something they want.

  • Seek to get even. Never let the behaviors and attitudes of difficult people become your justification for attempting to get even or justification for treating others badly. It's probably best to assume that the difficult person you are dealing with is hurting, and you would never want to add to their pain.

In conclusion, I simply want to remind you (and myself, as well) of this one primary attitude: Treat others as you want to be treated. It's not always easy, but it is what is best when it comes to dealing with difficult people.

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