Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and tiring.
But there are strategies you can use to deal with such people and make them less of a hassle in your life.
Here are eight highly effective ways to deal with difficult people.
1) Turn on your filter
First of all, you need to have your filter on when you’re around problematic people.
When it comes to the most highly effective ways to deal with difficult people, this is number one:
Filter them out.
That means what it sounds like:
Literally ignore them.
If there is a street salesman harassing you as you pass by a shop, keep your gaze ahead and ignore them. Don’t even shake your head. Pretend you haven’t heard and keep walking.
If somebody is flirting with you in an aggressive or toxic way, put your earphones in and ignore them as much as possible.
Make it clear you won’t react, and call the police if the harassment reaches a level that makes you feel in danger.
2) Practice being stone-faced
People in tough jobs and face a lot of harassment or stress often have a stone face. You know the type I’m talking about:
Security guards, cops, soldiers…
Those whose jobs bring them into a lot of stress often develop a default “stone face” that betrays no expression and looks almost like an ancient Roman bust.
When dealing with difficult people, it helps enormously to be stone-faced.
Betray no reaction, including anger or annoyance. Even rolling your eyes can just encourage them.
The difficult person could be your own dad or sibling. It may be a stranger harassing you on the bus.
But as you face their annoying behavior, it’s important not to react and give them an “in.”
Show them that their words are not hitting anywhere inside you and just bouncing off you.
Which brings me to the next tip for highly effective ways to deal with difficult people.
3) React as little as possible
Reactions are catnip to annoying and difficult people.
They actively search for reactions to their provocations, manipulations and harassment.
When you don’t react it throws them for a loop and they tend to eventually lose interest in making your life difficult.
Two quick examples:
A man is going around flirting with and catcalling women on the street near a bus stop.
He’s aggressive and wearing large amounts of faux-gold jewelry, promising a “good time” and telling various women how they are “hot stuff.”
You walk by, reacting as little as possible to his taunts and catcalls.
He’s got his eye on you, but quickly pivots to a different woman who tells him to shut the hell up.
“Oh, we got a feisty one here, do we,” the creep says, leering in the direction of the other woman.
4) Avoid taking it personally
It’s important not to take difficult people too personally.
They may often make you feel like you are their unique focus, when in reality they just want to use you…
…As an outlet for their anger…
…A target for their scam…
…A shoulder to cry on…
A person in a bar is eyeing you in a hostile way and trying to ask you probing questions about your monetary situation and how well-off you are.
It seems like it’s either the prelude to a robbery or some annoying way to try to make you give him money instead of just asking.
You have no reaction. But when he keeps asking aggressively how much you make, you shoot back: “I have nothing to say about it, sorry.”
Another example: a work colleague keeps asking you to do extra tasks for her because she’s down about a breakup. She comes to you again today looking extremely depressed and leans on your chair, demanding you take on a bunch of her stuff again.
“You’re such a good friend,” she starts saying to start her entreaty, but you interrupt…
Instead of letting her guilt you into doing all her work again, you chip in:
“I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It must be horrible.
I think it would be a good idea to talk to management about what you’re going through and taking some time off.
I just can’t take on the extra work right now.”
5) Redirect to a neutral angle
When possible, one of the most highly effective ways to deal with difficult people is to redirect an interaction to a neutral angle.
Instead of fitting into the frame of the difficult person, you pull the rug out from underneath them by not taking the bait and redirecting.
Your boss is very critical of your appearance and says you don’t look “professional.”
This morning when you come in, he’s back on the grind, mocking you this time because you look well-groomed.
“I see we managed to get the hair combed this morning, eh?” he chirps. “Glad you decided to invest in a comb,” he adds with a malicious sneer.
You could react with a comeback about him being fat or do nothing and just mutter “f*ck you” when you get to your desk.
You could redirect to a neutral angle.
“Glad you appreciate how I’m looking today, but you know I’m not single. I did want to ask you about the new files. What’s going on with those today?”
You just changed the subject and avoided caring about his insult while also mocking him by joking that he’s hitting on you.
6) Look for any common ground
When somebody is being a real jerk it can be very hard to see how theres could be common ground.
Why would you want to cooperate or try to get along with an a**hole?
The simple answer is because it’s practical and efficient, especially if this is a person you can’t avoid being around right now or working with.
- Your boss
- Your romantic partner you’re fighting with
- A family member you’re on a trip with
- A friend who’s on a trip with you
Common ground is often hiding in plain sight.
Say you’re fighting with your boyfriend and he says you’re extremely annoying and self-centered and he just wants you to shut up.
It’s true, you can be at times. So can he. Welcome to…being human?
But instead of pursuing this fight to the bitter end, you tell him you think you’re just in a bad mood because you’re “hangry” (angry due to being hungry).
You just gave him an “out.” He’s told you that’s he’s really hungry before the argument started, so you’re shifting back to neutral ground and giving him a chance to refocus on something proactive:
You’re both really, really hungry.
7) Stand up for yourself
When somebody just won’t leave you alone and is incredibly difficult to deal with, there is the need to stand up for yourself.
As much as we hear about “peace” and “love” and these kinds of concepts, too much tolerance of bad behavior has caused untold suffering and injustice in this world.
If somebody is aggressing on you physically, verbally, sexually or emotionally, they have zero right to do this and you have every right to stand up for yourself.
This can mean various things:
- Telling someone to back off
- Physically pushing someone away
- Calling the authorities
- Allowing friends or colleagues to step in and deal with them
Which leads directly to the next point.
8) Shut them down directly
It’s illegal to strike someone or physically accost them.
However if someone hits you, you do have the legal right to hit back.
This is generally not advisable.
But there are times when you have to shut down a difficult person directly.
What do I mean by that?
- Telling them off in the clearest possible way
- Threatening to contact authorities
- Leaving a job, relationship or friendship
- Physically defending yourself from attack or aggression
Life isn’t a cartoon, and sometimes direct action is called for.
Whenever possible, defuse and ignore a difficult person.
When that’s not, leave their presence, defend yourself or call in help.
People can be difficult in many different ways.
Your friend might be a great guy but get very obnoxious and speak loud when he’s drunk.
Your colleague may be a wonderful woman, but she is simply way too critical of others and it annoys you.
If you’re dealing with difficult people, it’s an opportunity to strengthen your own patience and problem-solving skills.
Sometimes it’s also an opportunity for sticking to your limits and knowing when enough is enough.