Difficult people. We all know them, have them in our lives and for some, love them. Dealing with a difficult person is obviously challenging, but it’s not like we can banish them to their own island. You have to deal with them. In some cases, as I discussed in a previous post, you are the difficult person. You wouldn’t want to banish yourself, would you?

How to Deal with a Difficult Person

Here is my best advice for working and living with those that grate our nerves, irk us, and show no signs of changing.


difficult personI know this is a bit controversial, but if someone is all-around-difficult, unless I have to be near them, I don’t waste my time or energy. And neither should you.

For the record, when I say avoidance, I don’t mean duck behind trees and parked cars when you see the person. It’s more like, this isn’t the person you want to invite out, share news with (good or bad), or collaborate with on projects.

If this person is in your friend group, this is the person who orders the most food and insists on splitting the bill. At work, this person always seems to goad you into a conversation or exchange that leaves you scratching your head and wondering how you got here. I just avoid them. I don’t run, but if it is not absolutely necessary that we interact, then we won’t.

Short and Sweet

If you are like me, the amount of keystrokes I clock at the end of the day doesn’t match the actual amount of words I send out via email. I type all kinds of messages – sharp, long-winded, snide, even. Then I backspace everything and type out a concise message that shows no emotion.

People who are challenging, look for opportunities to be combative and sarcastic and “right.” You don’t have to engage. Be your own editor. Figure out the most simple of ways to convey your message —no matter how complex. Opening or closing salutations? Depending on the person and the message itself, I may get right to the meat of the email, without a “hi,” “hey,” or “hello.” My signature serves as my closing. Don’t feed the beast. You have information to share, a question to ask, then move along.

Don’t Take it Personal

What I do know is what I bring to the table: professionalism, thoughtfulness and a couple of ounces of patience.

This is the advice I am sharing, so that somehow by typing this, I will keep this in the back of my own mind when confronted with someone who is difficult. Problematic people enter work and relationship spaces with problems… that have nothing to do with you. I don’t know all of my co-workers’ home life, their health issues or concerns, their relationship trauma or all the things that brought them to the place from which we know each other. What I do know is what I bring to the table: professionalism, thoughtfulness and a couple of ounces of patience.

This doesn’t mean that I am perfect, but it does provide a foundation for how I approach most, if not, all situations. If my colleague comes to me with this same base level, there should not be much of an issue. If there is, and I know that I have done my part to be upfront about my needs and my purpose, and my work is up to par, then I can rest assured that I have done the bare minimum to create a decent exchange. At that point, the assumption is that the other person is the problem, and that’s not my fault, nor my issue. I don’t need to internalize their behavior. I won’t; you shouldn’t either.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Dealing with a difficult person is challenging, but it’s not like we can banish them to their own island. Here's what to do instead.

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