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4 Easy Steps to Deal with Difficult People

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” ~Don Miguel Ruiz

It seemed like a simple task. Please switch my gym membership from gold to silver level. I’m not cancelling, just switching.

That was now the third time I repeated my request, each time a little more calmly and a little more slowly, despite the beginnings of blood boiling feelings.

The person on the other end of the phone could not have been ruder. It was as if I was asking for a kidney instead of a membership change. A harsh tone and harsher words ensued. Why, I still have no idea.

You have undoubtedly met them. You have maybe been one, once or twice.

Why are some people continually difficult to deal with? What makes Joe easy to get along with and John such a struggle? Here are the major reasons and what can be done about it.

1. We feel triggered when our needs aren’t met.

We love it when we are acknowledged. We may not be crazy about when we are criticized, but it beats Option #3: being ignored.

Being ignored is a terrible feeling for humans and one that we avoid like the plague. When this occurs, some people revert to “problem child” mode. These are the set of behavioral responses that are so ingrained that it is a reflexive series of actions. It is the default mode.

When you find yourself in such a situation, ask the big question: What is my positive intention here? What am I trying to accomplish? (Or: What is the other person trying to accomplish?)

If you can leave enough of the heated emotions aside, clearing enough space for some patience and I dare say, compassion, the root cause of the behavior often becomes crystal clear.

What are you trying to accomplish? Great. Let’s find a way of getting what you want in a healthy fashion…

2. Fear can lead to confrontation.

If we could somehow, some way reduce fear, 99% of the world’s problems would be resolved. Fear causes more complications and melodramatic dilemmas than all other emotions combined.

Fear is typically at the root when dealing with difficult people. They want something and fear it is either not being heard and will never be heard, or they are not deserving of having their voices heard in the first place.

Are these true? Probably not. They are stories we tell ourselves and believe as fact. Spoken enough, cycled enough in our heads, we proceed to “know them as truth” and act based upon these fictional anecdotes. Our bodies react with—you guessed it—fear.

Fear is a root emotion that originates from the kidney energy. The kidney energy is the source of all energy. Knowingly or unknowingly, we try to protect this at all times. Fear is the prime, albeit most ineffective method. How ironic!

Steering the person away from this base emotion is the key here. By choosing your words carefully and speaking them kindly, you can help divert a person from fear into the more advantageous and effective emotions. Once this occurs, the rest is easy.

3. A feeling of powerlessness can make people combative.

One of the most misquoted and misunderstood martial arts is the popular art of Aikido. Most people state that in Aikido, one is using the attacker’s energy against them. Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, founder of Aikido stated something much differently. He said, “We use our opponents’ energy to protect them…”

When there is a feeling of powerlessness—real or imagined—there is a tendency to go on the attack, so to speak. If one engages, things begin to escalate. That feeling of lacking personal power is the underlying reason. “I have no power so I must go on the offensive to protect myself, to regain lost power.”

We cannot take power from anyone without their consent. When we recognize this and remind the other person with compassion, we’re better able to defuse hostility. The more we acknowledge personal power, the less conflict arises.

4. We argue because we don’t want to “lose.”

The late self-improvement master Alexander Everett used to set up situations in schools that were based on cooperation, not competition. For example, track events were not Person A running against Person B; rather, they were about whether or not the team had an improved (total) time this month versus last month.

If they improved in April compared to March, the team was considered victorious.

When a conversation (or argument) is set up whereby there is the illusion of a  “winner” and a “loser,” conflict is bound to continue. Ill feelings are the “award” and nothing productive is accomplished.

How can the situation be set up so that both people receive what they desire? Note that this is much different than compromise. Compromise is a situation where a third option is agreed upon and neither party is happy with it.

At the end of the day, people are people. There are no truly difficult people, only those who have unrefined communication skills. Given the opportunity, everyone eventually finds their pure voice.

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About David Orman

David Orman is the creator of the country's foremost anti-aging formula, Hgh Plus found at www.hghplus.net. He is also the author of the blog DocWellness.wordpress.com.

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  • BeenThereDoneThat

    There are no truly difficult people?  You’ve never met someone with a personality disorder.   

  • ShaeC

    This post really spoke to me, not just in helping me to approach other people’s difficult-ness (is that a word?), but in helping me look inside at the negative things I’ve been ofering myself.   Thanks…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=770977657 Mariah Fielder

    Honestly I was kind of confused by this article. I would have like a little more explanation to clarify a few things, because I think there were some interesting ideas. 

  • Geejelly

    I agree with you.  The ideas in this article would apply to an otherwise mentally healthy person, but there are people who have complex mental issues and then all of this applies but little of it will help you in dealing with them.  The trick is to discern quickly if you are dealing with a mentally healthy person or one who is not.

  • Jenn

    I found this interesting for sure, however I don’t think there are key methods for dealing with those “types” here. I am always looking for practical approaches outside of understanding where the person is coming from. In the moment, I may be aware of the reasons behind a person’s actions but I also don’t want to empower or engage in the negativity.

  • Christen

    YES!!!!

  • Helen

    Not very easy for me, I’ve tried all sorts of ways.

    A particular mean lady I have to deal with daily truly has no morals, she is good at manipulating others to get her way and Back stabbing is her niche. All I can do is take deep breaths and roll my eyes.

    It is getting to a point where I feel like telling her where to go, but that’s too easy. Aargh!

  • alexistech

    I refuse to interact with such people any more. Yes, even at work. I will not subject myself to abusive people and no one should be expected to. After a while they usually learn to be respectful to people if they want to have a conversation. 

  • Caroldekkers

    Love this post – great insights!

    Sometimes people are difficult because they never have learned any better!  Grumpy old people often started out that way and never learned any better.  Explosive people learn how to get their own way and simply go through life knocking things over (so to speak) and getting what they want because others get out of their way.

    Many of us who are givers were taught at an early age to be people-pleasers, get along with everyone, and tolerate (often even abusive) behaviors of all types.  If you are like me, you also grew up with the “if you don’t get along with someone – it must be you!”  All of this is dysfunctional and make us co-dependent on the behaviors of others to feel good about ourselves, yet…The opening line of the post says it all – Never take anything personally!

    Easy to say, hard to live – but once you do realize that other people’s behavior has nothing to do with you (regardless of what your mother said!) – life becomes less disappointing and far less dependent.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Carol

  • Sandy_bucholtz

    Agree! I loved this article!

  • Anate1479

    I agree with the ideas, but I thought the main idea of this article would be to guide on how to deal with difficult people. Sometimes, it’s really hard to put an end to an argument or being involved in arguments everyday. Some advice I have been given is to not let it get to me, but sometimes is hard to do that when someone really offends you by saying something or doing something to annoy you.  Though, I read something really interesting yesterday in this website, about forgiving. One way that has worked for me to deal with “difficult” people is forgiving them.  

  • Paula Johnson

    I loved your post David, but can you tell me please – what is the third option if it isn’t compromise? How do we both get out needs met when we are poles apart in what we want?

  • Paula Johnson

    Thanks Carol, that makes sense…it’s easier said than done though isn’t it.  How do you get off ‘automatic pilot’ reaction and in the middle of confrontation and think “oh yeah, it’s just them, nothing to do with me”… :)

  • Selina

    Dealing with difficult people is I find letting them know the boundaries of what you will tolerate. Too often difficult people behave like this because they lack emotional intelligence or really don’t care about anything other than getting their way, getting attention or working out their unresolved issues on the nearest person available.

    As a consultant and personal development coach, I have experienced all kinds of behaviour, the worst kind I find are the passive aggressives – people who are unable to express their issues directly

  • Caroldekkers

     I agree – it can be really really tough (especially when someone you love yells at you or accuses you!)… but here’s what works for me.

    I’m slowly learning to respond to triggers rather than react… by REPLAYING (kind of like sports teams do after a game) the conflict once it has passed.

    I ask myself:
    1. Was I triggered by the person, the situation, or something else (like a hurt from the past);
    2. What was my part in the “Dance of Anger” (often repeated conflicts that follow a pattern are part of a he said/she said series of almost “dance moves”);
    3. Was I simply a bystander to someone else’s anger (this is often the case and really makes the “it is not personal” make sense) – or did I trigger a response?
    4. What can I learn to avoid this next time?  (Sometimes there is nothing to learn but to try not to engage, breathe, walk away, and stay composed.)

    Having been in a 20+ year marriage with an emotionally abusive narcissist (who had to be the center of attention and always had to be right), I learned how damaging it can be when a difficult person (he was so charming he’d come home from his clinical job and announce that everyone called him “Dr. Love” at work because he had the hands of love – gag!) – calls you crazy. 

    My best defense now is to live life wonderfully and today I am growing to love the Royal We (me, myself, and I) unconditionally.  There never was anything wrong with me (despite what “difficult people” continued to assert there was) – I just didn’t know that I could be much more Teflon by accepting and loving myself.

    Wishing you all the best.
    http://caroldekkers.wordpress.com

    Carol  

  • Joannie Godwin

    yes – out of normal people there are no truly difficult ones – only ones with issues.  Mentally ill people however…….

  • http://www.madlabpost.com/ Nicole/TheMadlabPost

    I like the idea of Cooperation over Compromise.

  • Soniyasa

    Thank you very much for this 4 steps… I have just been through exactly the same this with my boss .. Where I have been working for 3 weeks. It was a “problem child” mode which I did not know why then but you pointed out that she tried to regain powe .

    During our conversation while she has been critisizinv everything about me , making me obey to her set rule… I kept calm and let the words go through my emotional barrier it help so much to see the true meaning behind the word.

    I then requested a transfer which she did not expect..

    Not way to do but I can say the above does help :)

    Thanks

  • Karthikn1962

    Despite the fact it is true, the real situation sometimes seems taxing and tiring. in my case my boss has assured me of special incentive and pay hike from Jul 11. Everytime saying i will do, the issue till Jul 12 not resolved. At the same time, I have been sincere to my organisation and completing all assignments well ahead of time. Despite appreciating this , my Boss the CEO of the organsiation, never honoured his commitment even after one year. How to deal with this. I feel getting isolated, cheated and being back stabbed. Am I wrong, or there are some people like this and i need to accept or to fight for my right or i should follow delaying tactics ( my innerself is against this attitude). Will any one throw light on this.

  • meganisamama

     So when you determine that you are dealing with a severely mentally ill person, how do you deal with them?

  • http://twitter.com/docwellness Dr. David Orman

    There is a difference between a difficult person and one who is ill and needs medication. Having worked in a mental health facilities, it is one of the few times when I believe in medication. 

  • http://twitter.com/docwellness Dr. David Orman

    This is where professional help is a must. In my experience, they are truly compassionate, giving people (I refer to the mental health professionals here). 

    Evaluation is the initial step. Once completed, the path is usually clear — therapy or meds etc. 

  • http://twitter.com/docwellness Dr. David Orman

    Thank you for your kind words and insights Carol.

  • http://twitter.com/docwellness Dr. David Orman

    Thank you Shae.

    Your comments are the ideal (in my opinion) – when in doubt, look at oneself.

  • http://twitter.com/docwellness Dr. David Orman

    This may sound very strange and challenging to do Paula. . . but give up the battle. Allow the energy to go where it will and just don’t stop it. For example, if a person wishes to argue, let them without any come-backs.

    In the process, you will feel remarkable over time and the issue will resolve itself. Yes, it sounds too simple and it does work. Basic Taoist principle. Has worked for 1000′s of years. 

  • http://twitter.com/docwellness Dr. David Orman

    Think of negativity as a boomarang. If you go to grab it, you will get sliced. If you leave it alone, it returns to the thrower.

    If you don’t accept the negativity or insults etc., there is nothing to forgive for you have not been offended in any way.

    Just a thought. . . . 

  • http://feelhappiness.com/ Mikey D

    The quote at the beginning of the article has a lot of wisdom in it, and I feel like it’s applicable far beyond just dealing with difficult people. In fact, I don’t think people should take any interaction unless it is with a very close friend personally. 

    There are so many factors that go into a person’s mood before an interaction that usually what they say to you reflects them FAR more than it reflects yourself. 

    And even when people say very positive things to you, you shouldn’t take it personally. If you do, it can dangerously inflate the ego or allow yourself to be taken advantage of.

    Just accept your interactions with other people as they are, and don’t analyze them too much.

  • http://claimid.com/dmax dmax

    All four points are summed up in “ego,” which is presumably where the practicing Buddhist doesn’t dwell.

  • Anita

    Even someone with a PD would respond to these steps. They are angry about the same things when you listen.

  • Brent Oh

    Good Post.

  • megsea

    Thank you! I’ve been having a hard time communicating with a friend of mine and this is what I needed today.

  • Marrianne

    Problems occur when you get caught in the middle of two or more ‘difficult personalities’ I tend to walk else have found myself banging my haed against brick walls. true?

  • ChiropracticCoaches

    There will be always someone that difficult but as the quote say, Don’t take everything personally especially someone that has a personality problem.I give a thumbs to these article. Any advices on dealing someone really difficult and trying to take you on personally?

  • echristy

    While there are some good points here on how not to escalate potentially difficult situations it would be helpful to get more advice on how to deal with the truly difficult people – and not necessarily mentally ill people – that one cannot avoid day-to-day. Such as the extremely bitter and negative co-worker that cannot always be avoided who continually makes negative comments that wear those around them down? Or what about the person who has a issue with something that is not possible to change and won’t take no for an answer?

    It has been my experience that unreasonable, difficult people do exist and when they cannot be avoided I find it hard not to let them get me down.