The term ‘difficult person’ is shorthand for dealing with behaviour you find difficult or unacceptable. It’s often said that there are no such thing as a difficult person, only difficult behaviour. This may be true, but the term ‘difficult people’ it will get far more heads nodding in understanding than ‘difficult behaviour’ does. Either way, this difficult people download will help you improve your relationships.

You don’t have to like the other person nor agree with them, but you must accept their right to express themselves as long as they do it respectfully.

Either way, and the politically correct niceties aside, when you have to face somebody who is treating you unpleasantly, you’ll pretty soon start labelling them, and, in your own mind, you’ll probably choose far more offensive term than ‘difficult’.

How to Handle a Difficult Person

We can all be difficult sometimes but there are those who repeatedly behave in a way we find difficult to cope with. It is more likely that this happens at work, but home and social life can present challenges too. This short read will cover both.

Other people’s difficult behaviour can affect us in many different ways. If we are fortunate, it will simply irritate us, but when it is extreme it can cause more serious problems. 

Labelling Works Against You

For the purposes of illustration, this track refers to seven difficult ‘characters’. These are clusters of behaviours for learning purposes. Like any labels, they are intended to be descriptive and to provide a vehicle for illustrating techniques rather than a prescription for labelling people you have to deal with. We do not want to encourage you to start identifying people as ‘Steamrollers’ or ‘Snipers’, but to consider those characters as sets of behaviours, rather than descriptions of actual people.

Apart from the fact that it’s not nice calling people names, you should also remember that when you label someone you automatically limit the way you think about them. Labels are judgements and the mind will always seek information to support a judgement. This is relevant when handling difficult behaviour because when you say someone is ‘bad’ (or a Steamroller, Shirker, or whatever), you will filter information about them to support that judgement. This means you can overlook qualities and aspects of their behaviour – times when they are not acting like a Steamroller or Shirker, for example. 

Since effective handling of difficult behaviour works through the relationship you have with the other person, it is easier to do this if you are not hampered by the judgements you have made about them. 

Behaviour, Not the Person

Following on from the last point, any time you want to change somebody else’s behaviour it is useful to remember that it is the behaviour, not the person, that you are hoping to change. 

You are likely to get more positive results out of your strategy when that strategy is aimed at changing the behaviour you don’t like, rather than trying to change the person. Tackling the behaviour rather than attacking the character of the other person is less likely to provoke a defensive response.

Difficult Behaviour – a download

To help, here’s a simple yet powerful guide you can download. It describes seven common styles of difficult behaviour and gives ‘antidotes’ to help you work round them. It also includes some quick focussing techniques with simple mnemonics to remember them by.

These are taken from my e-book Difficult People; a Guide to Handling Difficult Behaviour. While these key ideas are useful as a reminder of how to work round obstructive behaviour, they also serve as a reminder that:

  1. We have control over how other people treat us and
  2. How ever difficult we are finding someone else, it is just behaviour, and behaviour can be managed. With a little commitment and the right mindset these strategies work.

It’s about agreeing, not liking

To handle with difficult behaviour productively means working to find a way for the two of you to create a ‘viable working relationship’ (this means any relationship, not just at work). Viable means that you can collaborate, rather than fighting.

You don’t have to like the other person nor agree with them, but you must accept their right to express themselves as long as they do it respectfully.

Being good at dealing with a wide range of behaviour is a vital life skill. It is a question of being smarter, not stronger. When you decide to improve your skills like this it will immediately give you a greater sense of control because you’ll be thinking strategically about how you interact with others, and planning for more productive outcomes.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.