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Dealing with Difficult People

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Can you recall the last time you had to deal with a negative or difficult person? Or the last time someone said something with the intention of hurting you? How did you handle it? What was the result? What can you do in the future to get through these situations with peace and grace?

No matter where we go, we will face people who are negative, people who oppose our ideas, people who piss us off or people who simply do not like us. There are 6.4 billion people out there and conflict is a fact of life. This fact isn’t the cause of conflict but it is the trigger to our emotions and our emotions are what drive us back to our most basic survival instinct; react and attack back to defend ourselves.

In these instinctual moments, we may lose track of our higher selves and become the human animal with an urge to protect ourselves when attacked. This too is natural. However, we are the only animal blessed with intelligence and having the ability to control our responses. So how can we do that?

I regularly get asked “How do you deal with the negative comments about your articles? They are brutal. I don’t think I could handle them.” My answer is simple, “I don’t let it bother me to begin with.” It wasn’t always this simple, and took me some time before overcoming this natural urgency to protect myself and attack back.

I know it’s not easy, if it was easy, there wouldn’t be difficult or negative people to begin with.

Why Bother Controlling Our Responses?

1. Hurting Ourselves

One of my favorite sayings is “Holding a grudge against someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The only person we hurt is ourselves. When we react to negativity, we are disturbing our inner space and mentally creating pain within ourselves.

2. It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

I’ve learned that when people initiate negativity, it is a reflection of their inner state expressed externally and you just happen to be in front of that expression. It’s not personal, so why do we take it personally? In short: Because our ego likes problems and conflict. People are often so bored and unhappy with their own lives that they want to take others down with them.

There have been many times when a random person has left a purposefully hurtful comment on TSN, and regularly checked back to see if anyone else responded to their comment, waiting eagerly to respond with more negativity.

3. Battle of the Ego

When we respond impulsively, it is a natural and honest response. However, is it the smart thing to do? What can be resolved by doing so? The answer: Nothing. It does however feed our ego’s need for conflict.

Have you noticed that when we fight back, it feels really satisfying in our heads? But it doesn’t feel very good in our soul? Our stomach becomes tight, and we start having violent thoughts?

When we do respond irrationally, it turns the conversation from a one-sided negative expression into a battle of two egos. It becomes an unnecessary and unproductive battle for Who is Right?

4. Anger Feeds Anger. Negativity Feeds Negativity.

Rarely can any good come out of reacting against someone who is in a negative state. It will only trigger anger and an additional reactive response from that person. If we do respond impulsively, we’ll have invested energy in the defending of ourselves and we’ll feel more psychologically compelled to defend ourselves going forward.

Have you noticed that the angrier our thoughts become, the angrier we become? It’s a negative downward spiral.

5. Waste of Energy

Where attention goes, energy flows. What we focus on tends to expand itself. Since we can only focus on one thing at a time, energy spent on negativity is energy that could have been spent on our personal wellbeing.

6. Negativity Spreads

I’ve found that once I allow negativity in one area of my life, it starts to subtly bleed into other areas as well. When we are in a negative state or holding a grudge against someone, we don’t feel very good. We carry that energy with us as we go about our day. When we don’t feel very good, we lose sight of clarity and may react unconsciously to matters in other areas of our lives, unnecessarily.

7. Freedom of Speech

People are as entitled to their opinions as you are. Allow them to express how they feel and let it be. Remember that it’s all relative and a matter of perspective. What we consider positive can be perceived by another as negative. When we react, it becomes me-versus-you, who is right?

Some people may have a less than eloquent way of expressing themselves – it may even be offensive, but they are still entitled to do so. They have the right to express their own opinions and we have the right and will power to choose our responses. We can choose peace or we can choose conflict.

15 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

While I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with negativity, it is something I find myself having to actively work on. When I’m caught off guard and end up resorting to a defensive position, the result rarely turns out well.

The point is, we are humans after all, and we have emotions and egos. However, by keeping our egos in-check and inserting emotional intelligence, we’ll not only be doing a favor for our health and mental space, but we’ll also have intercepted a situation that would have gone bad, unnecessarily.

Photo by Kara Pecknold

Here are some tips for dealing with a difficult person or negative message:

1. Forgive

What would the Dali Lama do if he was in the situation? He would most likely forgive. Remember that at our very core, we are good, but our judgment becomes clouded and we may say hurtful things. Ask yourself, “What is it about this situation or person that I can seek to understand and forgive?

2. Wait it Out

Sometimes I feel compelled to instantly send an email defending myself. I’ve learned that emotionally charged emails never get us the result we want; they only add oil to the fire. What is helpful is inserting time to allow ourselves to cool off. You can write the emotionally charged email to the person, just don’t send it off. Wait until you’ve cooled off before responding, if you choose to respond at all.

3. “Does it really matter if I am right?

Sometimes we respond with the intention of defending the side we took a position on. If you find yourself arguing for the sake of being right, ask “Does it matter if I am right?” If yes, then ask “Why do I need to be right? What will I gain?

4. Don’t Respond

Many times when a person initiates a negative message or difficult attitude, they are trying to trigger a response from you. When we react, we are actually giving them what they want. Let’s stop the cycle of negative snowballing and sell them short on what they’re looking for; don’t bother responding.

5. Stop Talking About It

When you have a problem or a conflict in your life, don’t you find that people just love talking about it? We end up repeating the story to anyone who’ll listen. We express how much we hate the situation or person. What we fail to recognize in these moments is that the more we talk about something, the more of that thing we’ll notice.

Example, the more we talk about how much we dislike a person, the more hate we will feel towards them and the more we’ll notice things about them that we dislike. Stop giving it energy, stop thinking about it, and stop talking about it. Do your best to not repeat the story to others.

6. Be In Their Shoes

As cliché as this may sound, we tend to forget that we become blind-sided in the situation. Try putting yourself in their position and consider how you may have hurt their feelings. This understanding will give you a new perspective on becoming rational again, and may help you develop compassion for the other person.

7. Look for the Lessons

No situation is ever lost if we can take away from it some lessons that will help us grow and become a better person. Regardless of how negative a scenario may appear, there is always a hidden gift in the form of a lesson. Find the lesson(s).

8. Choose to Eliminate Negative People In Your Life

Negative people can be a source of energy drain. And deeply unhappy people will want to bring you down emotionally, so that they are not down there alone. Be aware of this. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and do not mind the energy drain, I recommend that you cut them off from your life.

Cut them out by avoiding interactions with them as much as possible. Remember that you have the choice to commit to being surrounded by people who have the qualities you admire: optimistic, positive, peaceful and encouraging people. As Kathy Sierra said, “Be around the change you want to see in the world.”

9. Become the Observer

When we practice becoming the observer of our feelings, our thoughts and the situation, we separate ourselves away from the emotions. Instead of identifying with the emotions and letting them consume us, we observe them with clarity and detachment. When you find yourself identifying with emotions and thoughts, bring your focus on your breathe.

10. Go for a Run

… or a swim, or some other workout. Physical exercise can help to release the negative and excess energy in us. Use exercise as a tool to clear your mind and release built up negative energy.

11. Worst Case Scenario

Ask yourself two questions,

  1. If I do not respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?
  2. If I do respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?

Answering these questions often adds perspectives to the situation, and you’ll realize that nothing good will come out of reacting. Your energy will be wasted, and your inner space disturbed.

12. Avoid Heated Discussions

When we’re emotionally charged, we are so much in our heads that we argue out of an impulse to be right, to defend ourselves, for the sake of our egos. Rationality and resolution can rarely arise out of these discussions. If a discussion is necessary, wait until everyone has cooled off before diving into one.

13. Most Important

List out things in your life most important to you. Then ask yourself, “Will a reaction to this person contribute to the things that matter most to me?

14. Pour Honey

This doesn’t always work, but sometimes catches people off guard when they’re trying to “Pour Poison” on you. Compliment the other person for something they did well, tell them you’ve learned something new through interacting with them, and maybe offer to become friends. Remember to be genuine. You might have to dig deep to find something that you appreciate about this person.

15. Express It

Take out some scrap paper and dump all the random and negative thoughts out of you by writing freely without editing. Continue to do so until you have nothing else to say. Now, roll the paper up into a ball, close your eyes and visualize that all the negative energy is now inside that paper ball. Toss the paper ball in the trash. Let it go!

** How do you deal with difficult people? What has worked well for you in the past? How do you cool down when you’re all fired up and angry? Share your thoughts in the comments. See you there!


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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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462 thoughts on Dealing with Difficult People

  1. Leanne


    I went through a similar situation. It’s really frustrating but you have to be the bigger person and let her be. Just show your family that you are not being the negative one. It’s hard to do but try it if you haven’t already. Basically, don’t give her the satisfaction of drawing you into an argument. If you feel as though your mom is being taken advantage of, let your mom know that quietly so it won’t seem like a confrontation. Just let her know you’re concerned, it will be more affective than arguing. And the fact that your aunt is arguing with you at 15 (please don’t be offended by this, you do seem to be quite mature for you age)…I just don’t think its right and it’s something I’ve experienced. My aunt once started yelling at me b/c I wasn’t being bubbly enough (my parents had just separated, go figure) and when I very calmly asked her why she was being so negative toward me she went off and started yelling. I was 15 years old too. Talk about inappropriate. She is still a problem. After that blow up I had a hard time trusting her again and I put walls up. I slowly let her back into my life and then she did it again. My boyfriend of 13 years and I broke up and b/c I didn’t bounce back right away, she started to ignore me when I’d say a simple hello. Sometimes all we can do is be the bigger people and let that person be immature. The thing about negative people is that they eventually mess up in a way that no one can ignore.

  2. Lenin

    excellent article…I got some solutions for my difficulties..Thank you so much!!!!

  3. Daniel

    This is great advice. The problem is the person in mind happens to sit opposite me so I have the great situation of spending nearly half of my waking life in the near proximity of someone that’s constantly making snide underhand remarks, constantly taking over my conversations, constantly bad mouthing me to every new starter, constantly refusing to lift a finger to help me.

    The idea of forgiving, not responding and being generally passive doesn’t seem to be the right solution when it would be something I’d have to do every single day.

    I’m starting to lean more towards the idea of leaning over and smacking this person in the face. I would probably lose my job but at least this I wouldn’t have to put up with this horrible person any more.

    Anyone got any better ideas?

  4. Paul

    @Daniel – This kind of person that recruits others to take up the cause of a personal vendetta against you are common traits found in Sociopaths. There are only two ways of dealing with a Sociopath: 1) leaving [your job] so your not around them or 2) Communicate to them a false vulnerability, making them believe you have it and use it to ensnare them in a trap. They have to take the bait – there is no other choice for a Sociopath because that’s how this mental illness operates. Get creative and try it then see what happens.

  5. Dean

    This information is very helpful. Thank you.

  6. Sabrina

    A great article and is even better is it’s comments section :) I’m loving the fact that everyone is replying to each other’s comments and helping one another (albeit us being complete strangers) with their problems.

    I chanced upon this article because I was trying to deal with my sister. We still live together and I’ve tolerated her and her antics all my life. Over the years, I’ve showed nothing but generous amounts of forgiveness towards her. Ive returned her selfishness with selflessness. But after doing so for the past 23 years, I finally cannot tolerate her anymore. She has no respect for people but herself. She is always right and only her ideas and proposals are valid. She is extremely self centered and her ego is honestly larger than life. She treats our parents like maids and never once thanked them for whatever she has done for her. And to this day, even when I’m alr 23, she still call me names and tell me I’m stupid. I’m tired of dealing with her. The strange thing is she only does this to her family. I’ve seen her talk to her friends and she was civil with them. I just don’t understand how she can treat the people who love her the most so poorly.

    That said, she has her good days – the days when she is ok and becomes this person who is fun and wonderful to be with.

    I think the problem with her is her ego and her lack of respect towards other people. How do we deal with such people?

  7. Jake

    Man Im dealing with this annoying guy online hes not a bully but when I try to talk to him I allways end up offending him and annoying him PLEASE HELP

  8. Awan

    “Choose to Eliminate Negative People In Your Life”
    This is Good One!

  9. Paul

    @Jake – I Agree with Awan. If it all possible, separate from this person. If you can’t because you work with him this is different. As an old friend of mine once told me, “some people specialize”.

    There will always be those that always look for a reason not to enjoy life at your expense; they would steal the very light from your eyes if they could.

    They take positive energy and ground it out to negative energy which is essentially black magick.

    Since he’s only on line don’t talk to him. He’s obviously decided ahead of time not to enjoy talking to you. So, FIDO…Forget It and Drive On.

    Life is far too short to share company with people that want to make you responsible for their baggage.


  10. Maggie

    Thanks this just came to me in time I need it the most :)

  11. Hi Tina,

    Great article…

    On being the observer: This a very important skill to master. People need to gain more awareness and be present so that they can master this skill…Eckhart Tolle talks about this a lot…Detaching from an outcome is also very important if you want to get through rejection and difficult people….

    On point 4 about not responding: I also think that when most people talk back to you or get irritated at you it is because they have a memory attached from the past of something else that bothered them. this instantly changes their voice tone..Sometimes they may not be angry at you but a past event that is attached in their memories…..

    Thanks for sharing this Tina..


  12. Rolando

    Excellent advice!! For me the easiest way is to let them burn… When you have peace and you are a happy person you cannot let this type of person play you. Remove ALL interaction and stay away once for all. Just pray for them and enjoy your life!! Life is too short to spend any minute with a immature person like that!

  13. Julio

    Hi Tina,

    I find this article very insightful. As you can see I am in a job where I have monitoring functions where I have to highlight inefficiencies if I see them, and try to recommend plan of actions how to improve the status quo. Recently, I have to report problems in a business area where the person in charge has so much ego and does not want to accept help. Well this person does not see himself as someone who needed help or someone who needed to change something at all. Now he flares up every tiny little thing, even routine questions and try to dig dirt out of every action I do to make it appear that I am the one who is being difficult. It is of course a dilemma since I will be guilty of not performing what I have been paid to do in the first place. So I realised I have to detach myself from any emotion or opinion and simply enumerate cold facts, causes and effects, and a recommendation of plan of action. After that, I will drop it and cut any interaction with him which is unnecessary.

  14. Asha

    This is the first time i am here. Very impressed. I think it’ll take time to sink in and then put into practise. lets try and come back later.

  15. Asha

    This is the first time i’am here. Quite impressed. It’ll take time to digest it n put it in practice. It’s easier said then done.

  16. Listen to this interview with Sandra Crowe author of “Since Strangeling Isn’t an Option.” In this podcast Sandra outlines some of the difficult elements of dealing with difficul people and situations that can often occur in a business environment.

    Listen here:

  17. Jayant

    Thanks for such a great article…forgiveness is the way out of negativity

  18. Hi, Tina —

    Thanks, there are definitely some negative people that I have had to deal with and they often don’t have anything interesting or passionate going on in their lives so like you said, are unhappy, bored, and just need to be, well, difficult.

    I’m trying to incorporate and make more visual some of these ideas, I think children need to learn these skills as soon as possible.

  19. Ana

    I agree with everything you say. It’s great advice and it’s effective, one hundred percent. :) I have been using these strategies after reading books such as “The Secret” and “The Power” and I’m absolutely sure that our thoughts are the most important. The power is in each of us to decide by focusing our attention of what we like and love to do. My mind is my garden and the universe is the energy. The air is fresh, the colors are vivid and the energy is flowing and growing into its infinite potential.

  20. Ana

    When in a quiet unnecessary conflict with someone, don’t waste your energy in thinking about it. Your mind is your tool. Lead it. Employ it in thinking about stuff that boosts your energy.

    When someone’s provoking or unfairly criticizing you, turn your attention to your breathing and listen to that person peacefully, or you can do some activity that keeps you engaged. The point is not to give the situation any great importance, but to show acceptance and peace. If the subject is important, don’t argue, but calmly explain your part, ask questions and have patience. After all, we’re all humans, but with different experiences in life that have formed our perceptions and attitudes. Patience, patience, patience. And: focus on the good, lead your energy in the vital direction. Cheers! :)

  21. Ana

    Am I actually writing a third comment on this article? :) Well, it’s my first time participating on this great website, and thoughts and ideas are just coming one after another :) I have one more thing to say for now: :)
    It’s a theory I’ve been developing recently in my head and it goes like this – In each of us there is an enlightened person to be discovered. And our (the ones who have started discovering the light of joy) job is not to feed the bad habits in that person, but to direct our energy towards the joy in the universe :)

  22. Varun Mani

    Just finished reading this article, I feel better already!!

  23. Awesome post. This is really useful in dealing also to some buyers whom you don’t know there attitude yet. Personal characteristics will always be a problem when you don’t understand someone’s behavior. This is a real temper control if I may say so. In general, its a useful post again and a lesson to learn. Tip recorded. :)

  24. Mer

    Disagree. You are basically telling people to be wimps and suck it up. Why not give these negative people what they truly deserve and tell them off? So what if it makes things worse, it’s so worth it.

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