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36 Secrets to Spot Difficult People & Deal with Them In a Calm & Cool Way

They are everywhere in the world, and most likely in your life too. So, that’s why you need to know how to deal with difficult people with ease and grace. 

how to deal with difficult people

We all have that one friend who gets on our nerves no matter the situation. Even with numerous cocktails to loosen you up, dealing with difficult people can leave an icky aftertaste in your mouth. [Read: Bad friends – 25 types of friends you MUST unfriend from your life]

If you’re one of the lucky few who don’t know anyone who fits into that category, then you must have at least had the displeasure of coming across unreasonable people in your life. 

Whether it’s the cranky car park attendant or the teller at the bank whom you somehow always get stuck with, dealing with unreasonable folks is no walk in the park, especially if you have a short temper.

What makes someone a difficult person? 

We all know difficult people, but have you ever wondered what made them that way? After all, it seems like it would be an unpleasant way to live. Here are some reasons people are difficult to deal with. [Read: How to recognize and end toxic relationships]

1. Poor communication

Good communication skills are vital for any healthy relationship. But when someone lacks the ability to communicate well, that makes it difficult for both people. They might not be good at handling their emotions, so they have regular outbursts.

Or maybe they just don’t listen to other people or avoid conflict at all costs. Whatever it is, if they can’t calmly and reasonably talk to others, then they are a difficult person. [Read: 42 secrets to communicate better in a relationship and ways to fix a lack of it]

2. Lack of empathy

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see a situation from their perspective, not just your own.

Without it, a person is overly selfish and only cares about their own wants and needs. [Read: 24 signs of people who lack empathy to know they don’t care what you think]

This makes someone very difficult. Relationships are a two-way street, and if one or both people lack empathy for the other, then that makes for a very unhealthy relationship.

3. Criticism

No one likes to be criticized because it doesn’t feel good. So, if someone is very quick to criticize other people, then it will push them away. They will try to avoid them or might just criticize them back.

For some reason, many difficult people are pessimists and only see what is wrong with other people *and the world*, not what is right. But no one wants to hang around someone who is constantly trying to tear them down. [Read: Lessons to deal with judgmental people]

How do you spot a difficult person? 

You might think that it’s easy to spot a difficult person, but sometimes it’s not. Some of them can be more covert with their challenges. But here are some of the more obvious ways you can figure them out.

1. They insist on having everything their own way

Because a lot of difficult people are selfish, they frequently insist on having things their own way. The word “compromise” isn’t really in their vocabulary.

Even when you try to work things out with them, they dig their heels in and don’t give up.

2. They belittle you or insult you

They might think that they are better than other people, so they tend to belittle or insult them. [Read: 20 smart medieval insults in English that should make a comeback]

It’s like they don’t have anything good to say about you, so they cut you down and call you names. They do this because they are secretly insecure.

3. They leave you out of important conversations

Whether they do this on purpose or accidentally, they don’t include you in important conversations. It is probably a control issue, and they think that excluding you give them the advantage and you the disadvantage.

4. They always have an answer for everything

Many times, difficult people are “know-it-alls.” [Read: Confident or cocky? 16 subtle signs that split an arrogant and modest man]

They seem to have the answers to all of life’s problems. Now, they probably don’t have the answers, but they act like they do. They might even make things up in order to look smarter.

Types of difficult people

Difficult people can also be placed into different categories. They are the following:

1. Downers

You know the kind, the Negative Nancys or Debbie Downers. [Read: Negative Nancy – what makes one, 18 traits and ways to deal with their attitude]

They are always complaining about something in their life, and it sucks the life right out of you. Their negativity just pulls everyone down because they are “energy vampires.”

2. Better Thans

We just mentioned the “know-it-alls” and they are a perfect example of the “better thans.” But there are also the “one-uppers” who always have to outdo other people by one-upping them, and the “show-offs” who have to show people their big cars, houses, and fancy vacations.

3. Passives

The passives are people who are pushovers. They are also “yes men” and will do anything they are told. [Read: How not to be a pushover – what makes you one and ways to take a stand]

While that might not sound like a difficult person, they are weaklings and don’t have any boundaries or standards for themselves.

4. Tanks

The tanks are people who are explosive, handful, or bossy. Just like a tank would run right over a person, they try to do this in a metaphorical sense. They just barrel their way through life and never make life peaceful for the people around them.

Dealing with difficult people

When it comes to dealing with difficult people with grace, Matty is a great example. He is by far one of the coolest cats around. [Read: Toxic people – 48 warning signs and the best ways to deal with them]

Matty lives by the beach and spends his time surfing and playing the part of a hippie surf photojournalist. He wastes his time away chilling at the Volcom House on Oahu’s North Shore and gets paid by surf magazines to fly around the world to cover competitions.

Matty is by far one of the most relaxed and patient people on planet earth. However, there is one person who manages to get under his skin and that is his nemesis, Andy.

Andy is a carbon copy of Matty with the only difference being that Andy has blonde hair, and according to more than one person, is obnoxious as hell. [Read: 42 signs and ways to see manipulative behavior and stop being used by people]

Andy has competitively outwitted Matty in every aspect possible such as snagging interviews that Matty had planned to feature, dropping in on waves that were clearly Matty’s, and so on.

Any normal person would have flipped out by now but Matty just goes on with his day with a smile on his face.

So, how does Matty do it? How does he keep his aloha spirit intact without losing it with someone as bratty and arrogant as Andy? [Read: 33 toxic signs of double standards in a relationship and ways to deal with it]

We all have that colleague, friend, sibling, neighbor, mailman, and/or landlord who deserves to be left isolated on a desert island. But how we react to unreasonableness is what defines us as human beings.

Simple ways to deal with difficult people

Here are some tips that Matty lives by. Although his top advice to “smoke pot” and “live free” were not exactly appropriate for this list, or legal all around the world, we’ll just skip that! Beyond that, here are 25 other simple things that you can do.

1. Take a deep breath

It’s easy to lose your cool, but that’s not what you want to do. Before anything, take a deep breath and try to relax. [Read: Mantras to live – 21 positive that will transform your life]

Nothing is going to work out in your favor if you approach them with aggression. Be calm, respectful, and in control of yourself.

2. Understand the other person’s intentions

Another way to deal with difficult people is to understand their intentions. Do you think difficult people like being difficult? Probably not.

There’s an underlying issue that’s causing them to behave like this. Try to figure out why they would be acting the way they do. Put yourself in their shoes. [Read: Pay it forward – 20 positive ways to create a chain of goodwill]

3. Share your side 

Now that the person has told you how they’ve felt, it’s your turn to express your feelings. Maybe, in their eyes, you’re difficult. So, let them know your side of the story. 

It’s important to be able to articulate to the difficult person where you are coming from. This will make a big difference and help them get a sense of the situation as well.

4. Where is the conversation going? 

Your conversation shouldn’t be three hours long with you just blabbing about irrelevant things. You have a goal, right? [Read: Reasons women don’t understand men’s communication style]

So, yes, you should let the person talk and express themselves, but you should also make sure the conversation is staying on the right track.

5. Listen well

As tempting as it is to just zone out when you are in the company of a difficult person, this is not a good idea. For one, it’s not going to stop them from being annoying. Also, it may put you in a tough spot once people realize that you are not following the conversation.

Remember that just because you find someone difficult to deal with, you should not forsake your manners. [Read: 19 ways to be a much better listener in a relationship and read their mind]

Listen and respond when it’s appropriate and you will get through the meeting without even breaking a sweat.

6. Don’t let them affect you

This is really one of the best ways to deal with difficult people. Whether this person rubs you the wrong way with their bimbo-esque personality or if they’re just rude and loud, you should not let their bad attitude affect you. 

Sure, it may be difficult to keep a smile plastered on your face when all you want to do is reach across the table and smack them silly but stay classy with this one. [Read: 22 secrets to stop being so angry, calm your mind, and stop hurting yourself]

Don’t let someone beneath you ruin your mood and push you over the edge. Count to ten and breathe deeply. You will be surprised at how effective simple breathing exercises can be at calming you down [Read: Toxic friends – the types of friends to avoid]

7. Excuse yourself

If things get too much to bear and you feel like you are about to rip your eyebrows off in frustration, politely excuse yourself for a breather. Resist the temptation to flee.

Head to the restroom and splash some water on your face or head outside for a quick smoke. Get your bearings, center your thoughts, and still your mind and you will be able to deal with this difficult person soon enough.

8. Gently voice your opinion

There is no harm in standing up for what you believe in. In fact, you might have to when you are dealing with difficult people. [Read: Stand up for yourself – why it’s hard and steps to get what you want and deserve]

For example, if this person is being difficult because they have opposing views on gay marriage and will not let it go, then voice your opinion. There is no harm in engaging in a polite debate so long as tempers don’t flare and things don’t get out of hand.

The thing you have to remember when debating with a difficult person is that they commonly have a competitive need to win. Be gentle and patient with this person when you voice your opinion.

If you feel like the conversation is taking a turn for the worse, find the perfect opening and step back. When dealing with a difficult and negative person, choose your battles wisely. 

[Read: The power of your words can make or break your relationship with people]

9. Stay cool

Although staying cool as a cucumber is hard to do when in the presence of a foul-mouthed beast, you have to stay strong. There is a high chance that a difficult person will take great pleasure in seeing you in an uncomfortable position.

Not just that, an unreasonable person will likely twist things around to make you out to be the villain if an argument gets underway. [Read: Gaslighting – what it is, how it works, and 33 signs to spot it ASAP]

Do not kowtow to the pressure of engaging this person in a fight. Keep your cool and use your head, not your emotions.

10. Do not burst

This is very closely linked to the above point. If you’re able to stay cool and calm, you will very likely not burst out in a torrent of cuss words directed at this unreasonable person. Don’t let them bask in the power that they have over you.

Once you refuse to lose your temper when dealing with a difficult person, they will realize that no matter how much they try to goad you into a fight, they will not win. [Read: How to release anger – 20 ways to focus on the positives in life]

Difficult people have a bizarre sixth sense within them that lets them know how far they can push someone. If you take away their hold over you, they will lose interest soon enough.

11. Talk to the people around you

If you have mutual friends or co-workers, why don’t you talk to someone about the situation? 

Maybe they have some information that will help you understand what’s going on or will see the situation through a different pair of eyes. Even if not, they can at least be there to support you. [Read: True friendship – 37 real friend traits and what it takes to be a good one]

12. Humanize them

No matter how horrible this person is, try to walk a mile in their shoes. Once you see things through this person’s eyes, you may just realize why they tend to behave in a certain way. Be as effective as you can when trying to resolve this by humanizing this person.

For example, the rude customer service employee who put you on hold for the third time may just be having a bad day. 

The guy who cut you off in traffic may be rushing to the hospital to say goodbye to his grandfather. You should never judge another person’s behavior until you know the full story. [Read: How to show empathy and learn to understand someone else’s feelings]

At the very least, give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if you make everything up in your head, humanizing difficult people will make them easier to deal with.

13. Lighten the mood

Even the most negative people find humor in certain things. If you are trapped in a situation where you have to deal with a difficult person, try injecting some humor into the conversation to diffuse the tension. 

Not only will it take this person by surprise, but they may also just let their guard down and start cooperating with you. [Read: How to be funny – 28 must-know tips to make everyone love your humor]

14. Change your mindset

Another simple way for you to deal with unreasonable people is to change your mindset. Try to stop thinking of yourself as a victim and instead, focus on why this person irritates you. 

Perhaps it is just the way you tend to react to certain personality types. When you look at the situation from a third party’s perspective, you may just understand why some people rub you the wrong way.

You can also get an unbiased friend’s opinion. They may be able to shed some light on the situation and help you understand certain things about yourself. [Read: 45 positive and negative personality traits that can change your life forever!]

Who knows? You may just change your mindset and be more patient when dealing with difficult people in the future.

15. Be polite

As hard as this is, always maintain your class, charm, and manners. Do not turn into a raging maniac no matter how much you want to. 

When you are polite and refuse to show signs of anger or frustration, it may just confuse this difficult person and encourage them to react in kind. [Read: How to be classy – 20 classy people traits that command awe and respect]

They will find that no matter how obnoxious they are being, it does not get to you and they will tire of playing the big-man-on-campus card and eventually stop behaving like a prick. 

16. Bring back the human connection

We’re all humans at the end of the day. Work on bringing back the human connection between you. It’s time to build a rapport. [Read: How to be nice – 20 easy tips to make everyone love being around you]

Invite them for lunch, and get to know this person for who they are. Learn about each other. You’ll be surprised to find out how similar you two may be. 

17. Implement boundaries

If you’re able to have a respectful conversation when dealing with difficult people, then it’s time to bring in some limits and boundaries. You have the right to draw the line and show them where it is. 

If you’re not comfortable with this person saying something to you, be assertive and express your feelings. [Read: 23 secrets to set personal boundaries and guide others to respect them]

18. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach

“Difficult people” are not cut from the same cloth. Everyone has their reasons for being difficult. So, you cannot approach this person with a “one-size-fits-all” idea. 

You’ll need to figure out how to carry the conversation by talking to them and gauging the situation for yourself.

19. Know when to stop the conversation

You started the conversation, but this is a difficult person, so it may not go down the way you expected.

If you feel the conversation isn’t getting to a productive point, or they’re becoming heated, it’s time to pull back. If it’s your co-worker, for example, you can always talk to your boss. [Read: Clever ways to get out of an annoying conversation]

20. Find something in common

It’s not easy to deal with a difficult person under any circumstances. But when you feel like the two of you are polar opposites, it makes it even worse. There is no way to genuinely try to connect with them.

So, try to see if you have anything in common. [Read: 30 ways to get to know someone, open up to them, and create a genuine bond]

It could be anything from movies, TV shows, working out, hobbies, or even your favorite foods. Once you find some similarities, it will make you both less defensive.

21. Ignore them

Ignoring a difficult person is probably the best approach that will give you the most peace of mind. However, it’s certainly not possible sometimes because that difficult person might be your spouse, parent, child, or boss.

But if this person is someone that you can ignore, then by all means, do it! If it’s a neighbor, a classmate, or a stranger, just stay away from them. [Read: 44 stress-free ways to ignore someone and stop people from hurting you]

There is no point in engaging with them if it only brings negativity into your life. Avoid them like the plague.

22. Control what you can

Obviously, we can’t control everything that happens to us. And one of the major things we cannot control is other people. Only they can control their actions and words, and only you can control yours.

As difficult as it might be, just try to control as much as you can. [Read: When people use you – stop being a doormat and feel in control again]

That could be trying to avoid talking to them as much as possible or just being overly friendly to them so that you avoid triggering them and their bad behavior. 

23. Look at yourself

This might not be something you want to hear, but you do need to consider this. Is there something that you are doing that is making dealing with someone harder than it needs to be? Are you triggering their outbursts for some reason?

It’s so easy to point our finger at someone and say they are to blame for all the problems. But sometimes it takes two to tango. [Read: 25 honest, self-reflection questions to recognize the real YOU inside]

Relationships are a two-way street. So, take a good long hard look at yourself and see if you can change so that the other person responds more positively.

24. Overcome your fear of conflict

Most people don’t like conflict. Okay, some people might enjoy the drama, but most normal people don’t. And because of this, try to avoid it at all costs.

But conflict isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it can be quite productive if you handle it correctly. Try to learn some healthy ways of handling problems between you and the difficult person. [Read: How to resolve conflict – the 15 best ways to cut out the drama]

Be willing to engage in the conflict and tell them that you’re a team and you can get through anything together.

25. Get rid of the stress

You made it through the conversation with this difficult person! It’s not easy, and you’re probably carrying a lot of stress. So, do something to release your stress. Go for a walk, read, and listen to music. Do something for yourself.

[Read: How to take care of yourself emotionally and avoid falling apart]

You’re going to encounter more than your fair share of difficult people. Instead of losing your mind, it’s time you learned how to deal with the difficult people in your life.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...