5 Tips to Handle Difficult People

Posted on 12.03.2015

We’ve all been blindsided by a difficult person at one point in time or another. Your day is going well and suddenly drama explodes all over you! Luckily there are plenty of suggestions out there to help you manage the situation and deal with the person in the most compassionate and professional manner possible. Here are our top 5 tips to effectively handle difficult people.

1. Validate and respect the person.

It is crucial to understand that most of the time people are not being difficult on purpose. Most people become difficult because they perceive that their needs are not being met. The easiest way to diffuse the situation is to help them feel validated and to respect their concerns. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them or bend to their will, but it does mean that you should actively listen to what they are saying so that you understand their frustration. Sometimes all a difficult person needs is for their frustration to be heard and respected.

2. Walk in their shoes.

Try to think about the situation from their point of view. If you don’t know the person well, this can be difficult, but that’s where active listening and using your critical thinking skills can really help. If you seek to understand the reasons for the person’s fear/frustration, you will be able to understand their pain (empathy). If you can think like them about the situation, you may be able to come to a more beneficial resolution than simply approaching it from your limited view.

3. Avoid arguments.

Too often we aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on and are instead focusing on what we’re going to retort back to someone who is being difficult. Arguing solves nothing. This is often the first commandment of dealing with difficult people. It’s easy to get into a back and forth match of ‘you’re wrong and here’s why’ but that doesn’t help anyone and it just escalates the situation. Again, active listening comes into play here.

4. Switch extreme statements into facts if possible.

People who are in the middle of a difficult situation tend to polarize their statements with extremes. E.g. “I hate Bob! He is always late to the board meeting and he always interrupts!” A quick way to diffuse this is to acknowledge their frustration but present the real fact. E.g. “I understand you’re frustrated with Bob today. I seem to remember he was on time to the meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. He was only late on Friday, so you mean he’s late sometimes, not always. Right?” When you can get the difficult person to look at the facts, it often helps to bring the situation under control and gets the person to take responsibility for their reactions.

5. Refocus on something else after a time limit.

Allowing someone to vent for a couple of minutes is one thing, but having your day taken over by Negative Nancy is not going to work. If you can tell the person is going to launch into a bitter diatribe of epic proportions, it’s best to interrupt right at the beginning and make your limits known. You could say something like, “Nancy, I really would like to listen to your concerns and I have about 5 minutes. After that, though, I do need to get back to work and you probably do too.” This gives the person a clear boundary and can help them to focus their frustration on what is actually bothering them instead of wandering aimlessly through their emotions.

There are many more tips to successfully deal with difficult people and situations, so don’t be afraid to do some Google searches to find more. We hope these tips help you to be more effective in handling hard situations and people.