Think Simple Now — a moment of clarity

What should I do with my life? Click here.

Dealing with Difficult People

Photo by Stock Photo

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!


Before you go: please share this story on Facebook, RT on Twitter. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to receive email updates. Thank you for your support!
Connect with TSN Facebook Twitter Google+ Pinterest Instagram RSS
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.

Love this article? Sign up for weekly updates!

Think Simple Now delivers weekly self-reflective, inspiring stories from real people. Join our empowering community by entering your email address below.

462 thoughts on Dealing with Difficult People

  1. yssubramanyam

    there are no difficult people, it is our toughest mind..
    self inquiry is the best tool..

  2. These are great tips for reframing a conflict, which is especially important if the other person is perpetually difficult to get along with.

    I saw your post on pinterest and noticed the photo you used… you must have picked a different one, bc it isn’t the one floating around on pinterest. So this is random, but I love the photographer of the photo you first used (the two girls, with one screaming the other leaning back). Her photos are my favorite for blog posts. Her flickr is Pink Sherbert Photography.

  3. Karno

    Insightful post! Couldn’t agree more. I especially liked the section on why it is important to control our responses. Strategies for dealing with difficult people was so helpful! Thanks.

    Just from my own experience, I found humour is a great way to respond with difficult or negative people. Sometimes, humour releases the tension and is a great way to foster a working relationship. What do you think?

  4. Kris Heidenstrom

    This advice is excellent! I’ve only read a few bits so far, but it shows a depth of understanding of the human psyche that is rare. I will be studying this article, and others on this site, with my partner, to cement and enhance ideas that we have figured out ourselves. I’m very glad to have found this site. Thank you!

  5. smbauti

    Thanks for the advice! I’ll be sure to apply them when I run into these types of people.

  6. Nadroj

    Great ideas! I just had quite a frustrating episode with a someone a while ago because of his haughty, aggressive and inappropriate attitude but we know better as professionals not to be overwhelmed and intimidated by such acts.

  7. Well said, thanks for sharing such insightful tips. I recently lost my cool with my own family when some plans didn’t work out as I had expected them to and I almost let it ruin my Christmas.

  8. melissa

    I understand that not allowing someone to disturb your peace by letting them say what they have to, forgiving them, putting yourself in their shoes, taking the higher road, etc… But what if that person becomes disrespectful and begins to call you names and say things that are hurting your self-esteem? How do you react? Not saying nothing and trying to be rational, I believe, will only allow them to continue to behave that way because they know you will not defend yourself. Being dormant is not an option but spewing out the same obscenities they are doesn’t help either. How should you react in situations like this?

    • Paul

      I agree with the part about “avoiding negative people” who drain your energy. After my near death experience life took on a new perspective. I don’t need to “people please” anymore. Doesn’t mean I’m perfect, but I deal with it better. I don’t care to change the world…Just me in a positive way. Life’s very short! Time to move on. I’ve had many people come and go in my life…..What’s one or two more. Wave Bye-Bye to the Negative ones! We are free to do so unless we feel compelled to stay. :(

  9. Esmi

    I agree with many of the points, especially 8. Unless you are a psychologist, understanding peoples issues can be a minefield. Goodness knows what place those comments come from and how to quench them, if at all. But certainly, forgiving does help to eliminate them from your heart and cutting them eliminates them from your environment at large.

  10. casablanca

    In reply to Melissa (Jan 3, 2013) — I’ve been there, done that. Had a very, very difficult person (family member, not a spouse) in my life for over 20 years. I will call him Jake. I was always the forgiving & understanding half of the relationship. Always. I took Jake’s occasional tantrums, rants, anger rages & insults for longer than I should have. Yes, Jake was emotionally abusive (never physical) with his anger & rage. Only reason I stayed with him was because of other family ties & bonds. Not the easiest to break away from. What I did is Not the correct way to deal with them. So, at some point, without any explanation, I just stopped communicating & totally cut ties with Jake. What did Jake do? He started to spread rumors and tell bold face lies to relatives. I was quite surprised at this behavior as I thought he was more mature than to stoop that low. What I had done was angered him even more, and now relatives believe his lies and I am not in position to defend myself with relatives. Also, I no longer have the bonds I spoke of at the beginning of my comment. So… what I should have done was simply tell him this: “I respect you & I treat you respectfully, I expect you to treat me respectfully too. If you can’t control your anger, than I will no longer be able to be friends with you.” Of course doing this might anger them also. The outcome may be the same as what I actually did. But at least you are being up front, letting them know you have boundaries. You will be more or less – giving them the option to stop disrespecting you. It is now their choice. I never gave Jake an option. (he is VERY argumentative and logic never worked with Jake) Hope this helps….

  11. some people scare me with unhappy emotional abuse

    It seems nowdays been forgiving and praying for the same people. Its sad that this behavior is tolerated in today’s society. More and more standards and human couples don’t raise their children. Also hide to others a picture esque light that everything is ok and live with ignorance above others in their families. People need to understand that in life there is cause and effect. In my case alot of women in my family seem to use me on facebook. I notice certain people who take upon situations and public to embarass me. It makes me feel unhappy that if I bother to confront then nothing gets done but praise and the need to be little me again and again. Aren’t people suppossed to uplift or just remind a person that she is wanted in today’s world. everything will come back and hit them like a freight train.

  12. I think before you think of other people as “difficult”, find out about yourself first.

  13. I’ve certainly come a long way in dealing with difficult people, especially the bullies at the workplace. I recalled when one of the senior workmates told me off that “I don’t belong to this place”, I almost lost my cool. But I summoned sufficient courage and reported the incident to the manager who immediately took action to counsel the staff member. The latter glared at me with great intimidation but I just turned the other way. Following this incidence I was told later that she had to take several days’ sick leave due to some jaw infection. Was this a co-incidence or is it Divine intervention?

  14. Brigitte

    The article is very good. I,myself applied to these tips from childood to adult life.You cannot make negative people to take theirs own responsibilities or change negative characteristics.Its like teaching an old dog a new trick. You dont know how ,where , or what theirs mental states are. The best thing to do is by not letting the negative people under your skins. Breath,listen and smile. You can also tell them to take a deep breath,too!

  15. I am truly delighted to glance at this webpage posts which
    carries tons of helpful data, thanks for providing these

  16. It’s actually a great and useful piece of info. I am satisfied that you shared this useful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  17. I relish, lead to I found just what I used to be having a look for.
    You’ve ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  18. Excellent notable analytical attention intended for detail and may foresee complications prior to they will take

  19. John Curtis

    Things are far easier said than done.

    It’s not always possible to distance yourself from difficult and reactionary people, particularly if they are you’re fellow co-workers.

    I have actively tried many of these things suggested on the list and I have come to the conclusion that words are cheap and count for very little in reality.

    If people do not get along (e.g. perhaps they have different personalities, etc.) then there is very little you can do to rectify the situation. There will always be anxiety and tension because people who do not get along – ultimately don’t like each other and don’t want to be around each other for that reason.

    • I agree, John – words can be cheap.

      I can’t ‘pretend’ to someone that I’m someone I’m not bugged by them. If I’m bugged by them, if they are a problem to me, no amount of nice words are going to persuade them to stop bugging me. They are going to know I’m faking it – trying to take moral high-ground, or get rid of them.

      The good part of this is that the only way out is to not be pretending – to not be bugged. Boy I wish I could remember this! If I can follow the other advice here, then I stand a chance of remembering that the other person is not the only difficult one in this equation – they probably think I’m difficult too. (They’d be wrong about that, of course – another thing they’d be wrong about :-).

      I guess this is ‘choosing peace’. In other words, that me being bugged or not is something that I am choosing, and has nothing to do with them. They can be as they like, it’s up to me how I see them.

      Thinking about it, I realise that some of my friends are not bugged by the people that bug me. They don’t find them difficult. So it must be me…

      Thanks for the opportunity to think about this!


  20. Tina, there’s a pearl in every point here – thank you for your precise thinking on this. And the discussion you’ve headed – it is soooo helpful for me to read the comments people make about how we each struggle with this issue.

    As a rather difficult person myself (hard to believe, as I’ve been studying these kinds of ideas for some time now :-), I find myself wondering what makes people difficult in the first place. If I’m finding someone difficult, then chances are they are finding me pretty heavy-going too, right?

    So, as you suggest, we start dancing this dance about who is the most difficult, each provoking the other to prove to us that it is them that is at fault. It becomes important to me that I am the innocent and ‘easy’ person, and that they really are impossible. As you say, I then try to enrol anyone I can into my army of people who agree with me. I’m now using them to make me look good in my own eyes, as much as I am using the other person to make me look good.

    What if I just wasn’t offended by this person in the first place (as you say in your first comment!). That’s something worth working on. What if I thought they were just … a person, on a journey, probably a bit – or even a lot – like my own journey.

    Amazing when we see people as they are, rather than as we are! All kinds of magic.

    Thanks for the opportunity to think about this


  21. Destiny

    I love, love, love, this article! I actually had to read it for a class assignment. This article is just the remedy I needed, not only for my work life, but for my personal life as well. I look forward to reading more of your articles :-)

  22. Safouane

    I might want to contradict with this , our instincts are very accurate and helps us in our social prestige , somehow it is a sort of automatic intelligent calculation of our brain , with enough time spent on it you will always come to the result that what our instinct told us was the correct thing to do , And i wish to say that there is a difference between feelings ( emotions ) and instincts .
    in a face to face situation emotions will lead us to fear and having the urge of avoiding the situation as much as possible , instincts in the other hand will push us to face the other person with a cold killer look in the eyes …
    If you think about it , running away might makes us safe is the short term but will only bring chaos to our life in the long term as our respect in society destroyed and people’s esteem lost , that might even bring to us a bunch of bully troubles and the only way to solve it out would be to face all the bunch of people and restore your respect and esteem among the society .
    In the other side following the instinct by facing the situation can be harmful in the short term ( even if it is very rare ) but much safer in the long term .
    It will bring respect from everyone including the negative person who might as well feel fear and try to avoid the situation , even if it breaks out in chaos everyone will own you respect and understand that you shouldn’t be messed with they might even fear you if they have weak personalities .
    That’s how Alpha males act in wild life to maintain control over others and dominate them , life of beasts which is much harder than our own .

    I tried to say that instincts are very useful in our life and there is a big difference between emotions and instincts . But responding to annoying disrespectful messages from anonymous in the cyber web would be silly . Thank you for sharing this post and allowing us to post our opinions

  23. Thomsina charlotte Durrant

    I am 66 years old and I have come up against difficult people for most of my adult life unfortunately. Some was work based some outside work. One most difficult person is my mother-in-law who tries to put me down every time we meet. She throws out nasty remarks like I am a terrible cook and our house could do with more cleaning. Another issue which annoys me is she says I am no fully fulfilled without children ( we don’t want any) My husband says ignore her remarks but I don’t agree she should not voice her opinion in the first place it isn’t her business and also she comes out in front of company who visit our house when she is there also. I could not tolerate her anymore as it was making me ill and nervous in her company so I don’t see her much now glad to say. I did as her to stop her remarks but she replied why should she so she is now ancient history. I am much more relaxed in myself these days. My husband goes to visit her but I don’t go with him.

  24. Sharan

    I am generally sensitive. And I get hurt when anyone disturbs me all the time mentally. I don’t understand a friend’s character in my class. He plays with me mentally all the time. And I try to be his best friend all the time but I don’t know what he thinks about me. He sometimes be close with me and after about a week, he does unfriend me. Please help me in solving this thing…plzzzzzzz.

  25. Thank you for Tina who shares tips for dealing with difficult people. For those who often deal with difficult people, this is one of the articles which they must read.

    I have experience of dealing with difficult people too and would like to share some skills about it. I hope the skills will help the readers in need.

    Think positively and speaks positive language with kindness. Positive conversations and suggestions spread positive energy. It will cool down the heated discussion. For example, when ones thought I was wrong and expressed their opinions with anger, I would say “I want to talk to you peacefully”. This sentence has helped me stop the heated discussions twice.

    Another skill is “blessing the person who is angry with you”. You have got to forgive the person first and to have enough “good fortune” to make your blessings effective.

    Accumulating enough “good fortune” through compassionate deeds such as tithing, charity, donation, etc., from the bottom of your heart firstly and then do the blessings again. You will find out that it becomes more effective.

Page 18 of 19First...141516171819
Your thoughts?

Leave a Comment

We’d love to hear them! Please share.

Think Simple Now, a moment of clarity © 2007-2015 Privacy Disclaimer
Back to top