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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. angels

    WOW! What an insightful article? There are a few coworkers who I can learn to deal with better. And hopefully help.

    Even more than that….I am a hugely difficult person to deal with. When I have problems I can tend to bring a lot of negative energy. I can see how difficult it has been for other people to deal with me.

    Ive used this website the past 2 weeks to help me from going negative at work and it has helped me a lot. When I want to say something negative or reactive, I don’t respond, then force myself to say the bare minimum of what needs to be said to do my job. Then I write down my negative thoughts and throw them away. I was a lot more pleasant at work today.

  2. shahi

    it’s really very nice article

  3. Thank you,
    I needed this very much. I feel confident that I can tolerate and maintain my patience with difficult person I will be meeting with soon.

    Ah, thank you,

  4. jo crehan

    after reading many of the comments, i just wanted to respond to hippie hater. I do understand where your opinion comes from because I myself find it hard being spiritual to find a balanced point of asserting myself. I would say that the article does have many valid points, my only draw back is that I do believe that the point about asking yourself ” what will I gain if I respond” would answer that. If you feel that asserting or sticking up for yourself will leave you feeling more as ease than do it. The walking away factor only really relates to me in the case of the internet “leeches” that are purposely throwing out insanity for a reaction.

  5. Good post. I be taught something more difficult on totally different blogs everyday. It’s going to at all times be stimulating to read content from other writers and follow somewhat one thing from their store. I’d prefer to use some with the content on my weblog whether or not you don’t mind. Natually I’ll offer you a hyperlink on your internet blog. Thanks for sharing.

  6. kayean

    thank you for writing this one. i was looking for something in the internet to find a solution to something that was bothering me and i stumbled upon your article. after reading it, i felt better :). thank you so much:)

  7. Bob

    Only one I disagree with is “Be in their shoes.” Most irrational people play the victim card.

    Why does society tolerate difficult people anyway?

  8. Mel

    How you respond to a situation will determine the outcome.
    Thanks for the tips.

  9. Shell

    Thank you for the article ^_^ xx

  10. This is great advice, Tina!

  11. Bryea

    See I know that all of your advice is completely and utterly correct but when the situation comes its soo hard to remember!! I mean I have some people in my life that just to hear them talk gets me going!! Either they dont know what the hell they are talking about or they are talking shit about someone!!! It makes no sense!! And I ask myself why do they waste there life on other people but then I have to ask myself the same thing!!!!

  12. Tom

    Hi Tina, I agree with your ways but what would you do if you are dealing with someone manipulative Greta Pryor at Towers on the Park Condominium. Greta Pryor acts like she is intellegent, convincing to all homeowners but she is a manipulative woman.

  13. Gregg


    I found your article very helpful and easy to read and understand, I am really glad I found it as it has given me back some perspective I lost somewhere.

    Warm regards

    Gregg H

  14. Justin

    Well, I certainly wish I would have read this article before I reacted to a very insecure individual last week. For over 20 years I have been volunteering in a organization and have been dealing with this person’s negativity and insulting comments. Each time, I was strong enough to resist the temptation to tell them what I thought of how were were being treated….that is until last week. I should have walked away again but was too foolish to. Now, after I told him how upset he makes us, he is painting me as the cause of the issue. This is what I get for making the mistake for standing up for myself. Now, I’m the bad guy.

  15. Mark

    Thank you for your article. Although I knew EVERYTHING you said was true, it is still difficult to apply. I am currently going through a VERY difficult situation with my father who also happens to be my boss. Until I am able to find another job, unfortunately, I can not completely seperate myself from him. Often times I seath with anger and hatred and want only harm to come upon him. Some of my feelings I have identified are from as far back as childhood. I thought I had long forgiven him, having become a Christian in my early 20s, but forgiveness seems to be more of a process. I hope the tools you expressed in your article will help. I know it is what I need for my peace of mind and happiness as well as the peace of mind for those around me. Again, THANK YOU.

  16. doug

    yes, all true, the grudge poisons the one who holds it..YET..a bully will cheat you and threaten and to forgive that is asking for abuse. If a guy steals from you and then acts like your ‘buddy’ in front of others who don’t know, you need to just stand up and tell the truth! Who backed into that neighbors car and didn’t pay for it, who took this material?? And ask them to their face in front of everyone so that there can be peace..And if they cant answer they will flee from your honesty and leave a wide berth around you because you don’t need secret hatred..but are openly willing to say what needs to be said..Offering reconciliation and if they don’t want that..Up to them.

    You don’t forgive the molester who still has his hand in your pants! You tell the truth and then watch them run and pity them their fear of who they are..No bitterness..Then its over..

    There is a time to forgive, and a time to openly fight without reservation or apology when something is utterly wrong and needs to have something DONE about protect the innocent and weak from truly vicious characters who are rare, but very present in a small minority..And they often find positions of minor power where they can exploit and damage and abuse..It should never be tolerated in the guise of ‘forgiveness’ but immediately stopped or called out for what it is..

  17. Bright Hu

    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.

    I would like to say that it is a wonderful article and it is very useful to me in my life. No.10 is my favourite. express it, forget it,forgive it, It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

  18. I am overwhelmed after reading this post. You are just awesome. It’s a masterpiece of your writing. I am very very thankful to you. In my life right now, I am coming across many negative and difficult people. I had been thinking over how to deal. My head storms. But now I have found a very good ways to deal with all the bad situations. Thanks. Thanks so much.

  19. LaRhonda Smith

    This is an awesome and encouraging article. I really enjoyed reading it. It has encouraged me and inspired me so much. Now I clearly understand how to deal with difficult people. This article has helped me so much. I have difficult people to deal with everyday and it was getting very hard to deal with them. Thank you for this wonderful article.

  20. Lisa

    Ok, I get what you’re saying but what if the negative, cynical, energy and happiness zapping person in your life is your spouse! for 15 years I have stood beside him and tolerated his self loathing, depression, cynicism, and negativity for 15 years. I do not know how much more of it I can take. He is a miserable person (not abusive or anything like that) and he “vents” his misery and it affects everyone around him. The family joke is “Its not a party unless Kris makes someone cry.” His negativity and unhappiness affect our children too and I find myself no longer able to make excuses for him. Nothing and no one can change him because he doesnt want to change and thinks his negative & cynical view points in life are realistic and appropriate. I would like to see more addressed on issues like this… I mean, really, what can a person in a situation like this do?

  21. Brown Bear

    Thank you for sharing this article. Turning off my ego has helped me most recently in corresponding with negative family members. After waiting things out I feel more prepared than before thanks to your article. :)

  22. BL

    I’m surprised there’s no advice about talking to someone else about the situation. It can really help to get a fresh perspective, especially if you’re feeling rushed to hit the “send” button or make a phone call. Talking with someone else can tell you if you’re overreacting and snap you back to reality. Talking can also help you see if there really is a problem (e.g., sexual harrassment).

  23. sincerely

    What about when a person asks you a question,, but when you begin to answer they start a conversation with someone else? this isn’t a one time thing, it’s nearly every time we speak.

  24. Mettleurge

    We’ve got an asshole in the office who has been there forever, holds tight controls over as much work as she can, is condescending and critical of everyone who tries to do better, and has no advanced analytical or production skills to compensate for her being such a jerk.

    I want anonymously advise the superiors that all our personal productivity is being inhibited by the pervasive hostility of that person.

    We have good mornings, until she comes in, and then open communication stops. We all try to get as much done early before she shows up with her bad attitude, and pray we didn’t make any mistakes that require revision.

    I’m quitting as soon as I get this other thing going, and I will state clearly that I have seen other operations fail for exactly the same reason that this one will, bad attitude.

    Management is passive, assuming nothing is wrong as long as deadlines are met, which in my opinion is a pathetically minimal requirement.

    No one volunteers for anything during the day. It’s sad. SO much talent going to waste because of one unhappy wretch that management won’t simply segregate form the rest of us. This has been going on for years. She will not change. I’ve lived long enough to see many people come and go, and this person didn’t get this way overnight and no one believes it if she tries to fake up a positive supportive attitude for a day or two, at which point she descends back into a bitter funk and takes it out on anyone within reach.

    There are no overt grounds for complaint. She’s far to experienced at her methods and has been warned numerous times, but she feels superior to all management and practically dares them to dismiss her.

    It’s sad, and I believe characteristic of many so-called progressive organizations who hide behind their “open-door” passivity, hoping nothing will really go wrong. They just have no idea how much productivity and creativiity they are losing out on by not knocking this type of miserable ape off his or her perch.

  25. Keshav

    Great article with real facts .. thanks for sharing. :-)

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