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Help Me Deal With Difficult People

831837_79977773How do you deal with the difficult people in your life?

People for whom you seem to walk on eggshells, trying to avoid unwittingly provoking their anger.

People who must be in control of every personal exchange so their superiority shows.

People who try and control you with insults or put downs.

People who try to emotionally manipulate you.

People you can never please.

People who are caught in a spiral of negativity.

People who lie.

Many books have been written about the topic, yet short of breaking off every relationship we find contentious or difficult many find themselves in difficult relationships with difficult people. It’s part of life.

You can manage your own emotional response however, as well as try to set healthy boundaries. Here are four HELPing techniques:

Humor: If the difficult person is peripheral to your life, someone you only have to see occasionally, do you best to find the humor in the situation. (Keep it to yourself though–even difficult people have feelings.)

Eliminate: With people you must have more regular or sustained contact with, eliminate some of the contact when possible. Think through a plan about how to do this. Sometimes popular techniques such as telling a person “I’m going to hang up the phone/end this conversation,” actually enrage a person, leading to escalations. However, giving yourself a time limit for how much time you are willing to listen to this person can be helpful.

Listen or Learn: Don’t listen to their words, listen to their emotions. People who are unable to admit or articulate their fears and worries may instead lash out. What is underneath their acting out?

They’re not listening? Figure out what you can learn from this situation. Reflect on whether you have ever been unreasonable. Think about how you can in the future be more aware of other’s feelings so you don’t become a difficult person. Make this about how you can benefit and grow wise from the challenge you’re facing.

Position: Determine what the difficult person’s position is, align with it, and offer other possible options. When someone is set on finding the negative in a situation you cannot dissuade them. But by telling them you understand their position, you get why they feel the way they do, you validate how they feel. Then, when you ask them if they’ve ever considered that perhaps they could view their situation from another point of view, they will be more open to listening to what you say.

All though there is no sure-fire way to alleviate the annoyance (and anguish) dealing with difficult people can bring, try one or more of these techniques and see if it doesn’t help you cope.

Help Me Deal With Difficult People

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2016). Help Me Deal With Difficult People. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 May 2016
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