13 Steps to Get Along with Difficult People

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Each and every one of us has likely encountered someone difficult to get along with. 

You may even be going through it right now.  

In fact, as you are reading this, I bet you have one or two people in mind that the word “difficult” applies to. 

C’mon. Don’t be shy. Admit it.

Whether is a colleague or boss, a member of our family, a neighbor, customer or acquaintance… we run into difficult people all the time. 

Quite frankly, they're everywhere. 

So knowing this to be true… wouldn’t you want to know the secret for how to get along with difficult people?

What Makes a Person Difficult?

Many have attempted to define or classify what makes a person appear “difficult”.  I personally feel that a list would be inconclusive… however, a few tell-tale signs do come to mind, such as:

  • A difficult person is someone who often lacks empathy, compassion, or concern for others.  You could simply say they’re calloused.
  • Difficult people tend to feel they are better than everyone else.  This type of person seems unapproachable when you’re looking to shake their hand.  They even seem disgusted when you approach, them as if you have some contagious disease. Then, when conversing with them, they talk down to you as if you're inferior to them.
  • Difficult people have an aggressiveness about themselves.  They tend to be rude and sometimes hostile toward others.  This type of difficulty in a person is usually brought on by someone who doesn’t “mind their own business” and doesn’t seem to have boundaries.
  • Difficult people tend to be very distrusting of others.  They are very suspicious… and many of the thoughts, feelings, and expectations they have of others are very unreasonable.  You may even ask yourself, “Where do they come up with this line of thinking?” 
  • Difficult people have a tendency to be very selfish and make everything all about them.

Common Places You’ll Encounter Difficult People

Difficult neighbors

We have all had experiences with difficult neighbors.  They caused a fuss over property lines, overgrown trees or tend to be extremely loud in the late hours of the evening.

Heck, some don’t even bother to say “hello”.

Difficult coworkers

Bosses can often be difficult.  With so many, the more you give… the more they want. 

But bosses aren’t the only difficult people at work. 

Do you face this rough behavior from some of your coworkers, clients, or customer base as well?   These difficult people you work with seem to be working overtime at making your work more challenging and more stressful. 

Difficult clients and customers tend to belittle you and even try to provoke you, knowing that you will lose your job if you retaliate.  Knowing how to identify and deal with these personalities at work will help you in the long run.

Difficult people on social media

Many of you have dealt with difficult people on your social media pages.

For instance, you posted a concern about something that happened during your day. Next, someone who happens to be a follower or a friend of your page sees your post and becomes defensive and angry with you. 

This problematic person lives nowhere near you, and you didn't interact with them before your post to vent, yet they “think “you are bad-mouthing them and attack you in the comments.

Difficult family members

The hardest of all difficult people to deal with daily are those within our own families. 

It’s not like a job where you can simply find another employer because of the issues there. 

It’s not like dealing with difficult neighbors, where you may consider selling the house.

It is not even like social media… where you can simply block or unfriend a person and not have to deal with them any longer. 

With family, you simply cannot always run from the issue.

Whatever your situation may be, there are ways to equip yourself to better deal with difficult people.

13 Steps to Get Along with Difficult People

1. Be a good listener, especially before reacting.

Sometimes difficult people are only that way because they are going through a trying time in their life… and their behavior reflects it. 

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Be the ear a person may need when they are being “hard to deal with.”

Try listening to them to discern the hurt or frustration that the person may be going through.  You never know what is behind their frustrating behavior. 

Maybe they just need to vent about it? Be the ear a person may need when they are being “hard to deal with.”

2. Don’t be judgmental.

Have you ever heard the saying, “When you point the finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you”? 

It is essential as you listen to someone that tends to be difficult that you do so objectively. 

If they are genuinely going through a rough patch in their lives, you want to listen to gain perspective, not judge them.  None of us really know how we will react if we are in the same situation.

3. Get someone else’s perspective while also avoiding gossip.

It is always a smart move to ask for another person’s perspective when dealing with difficult people.  It is a way for you to get your feelings off your chest while, at the same time, gaining an objective view of the matter. 

It is a way of finding out “if it is them or me.”

Just be sure to try and avoid gaining the perspective of someone who is always agreeable… and seeks to turn your discussion into a gossip session.

4. Be respectful. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Don’t return the behavior that you have received back to the difficult person that infuriated you.  Most people know that they were in the wrong and their behavior was good or bad.

Showing kindness and respect, even when it is not deserved, could be the thing that compels their heart to change.

5. Give a peace offering.

Bake a pie. Bake a cake. Give a thoughtful gift. 

Gifts make great peace offerings when they are well planned and thought out.  Your kind gesture could be the difference-maker here, no matter how small.

6. Identify their hidden need.

As you take time to listen to that problematic person, or talk the situation over with an objective third party, you will find that there is a hidden need that your troublesome adversary has.

For example, it could be that this person has some dramatic situation that has them off their game… like losing a parent, having a sick child or going through a divorce. 

To cope, this person is taking their stress out on everyone that crosses their path.

7. Offer compliments.

There are times when all of us, especially difficult people, could use some positivity in our lives. 

A few nice words. A smile. 

That ridged boss, coworker or neighbor may simply need to hear what it is that you like or value about them. 

It could be that your boss, though a pain in the butt, is incredible under pressure. (For some inspiration, check out this list of words of encouragement for coworkers.)

It could be that your coworker is very neat and organized, though they’re hard to get along with. 

Your neighbor may get on your nerves, but they have the best cut lawn and hedges in the neighborhood. 

Try giving them a compliment; it may go a long way. Make lemons out of lemonade, as they say.

8. Don’t demand change, but explain how their actions make you feel.

I know this doesn't apply to everyone.  

Still, when dealing with difficult people, it is essential to remember that difficult people are people too. 

Though they are a handful, they have feelings, and they're able to reason and understand. 

So try and explain to a difficult person how their actions make you feel… and hope for the best. Maybe they will understand and change. 

It may work better than demanding someone change their ways. That almost always backfires.

9. Try not to take their behavior personally.  Know what triggers you about their behavior.

Doing the best you can, try not to take a difficult person’s behavior personally. 

As stated earlier, factors in a person's life could bring about such harsh behavior.  You may say, “They know when they do this-or-that, it gets on my nerves.”

We also say, “they are doing that on purpose.”

But if we give others credit for knowing our triggers, we need to be aware of our own triggers too… and guard against the behavior that is irritating us so severely. 

Starting your day out with positive affirmations can be helpful, especially when you know you will be facing a difficult person. 

For more information and an excellent list of affirmations to help you reduce stress and anxiety, check out 45 Positive Affirmations for Anxiety Relief and Stress Reduction.

10. Find someone who may be able to offer help.

When you have listened to a person who is being difficult because of a personal struggle and identified their need, it is vital to ask if they are willing to accept help.

If so, you should be willing to offer information or a source of help for this troubled person. 

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It is vital to ask a person who is being difficult because of a personal struggle if he/she is willing to accept help.

Sometimes it could be a need for counseling. Knowing a great support group, counselor or pastor could help the person get back on the right track. 

This is another step in going the extra mile and discovering how to get along with difficult people.

11. Self-reflection – Why does their behavior bother you so much?

Reflection is always a wonderful thing.  So it never hurts to think about the behaviors of your troublesome foe and ask yourself, “Why is this behavior bothering me so badly?  “

12. Take a good look in the mirror; you may be the difficult one everyone has an issue with.

Another way to look at self-reflection is to look at yourself. 

You may realize that you are the difficult one that everyone around you is dealing with. 

While it may be a tough pill to swallow, you notice this when you reflect and see that everyone you encounter is rubbing you the wrong way. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident. 

If you discover you are the problem and desire to take steps toward a positive personal change, check out the article on 23 bible verses about experiencing growth and change.

Change and personal growth are sustainable, but not the easiest feat in the world to accomplish.  This beautifully written and thought-out article will help. 

13. Distance yourself.  Limit interaction.

There are times where being friendly with, listening to, complementing and even finding help for a difficult person doesn’t work. 

In these instances, it is time to distance yourself or limit interaction with them as best you can. Remember John Rohn's famous quote: “You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, even when it comes to distance and limitation. But, in many circumstances, it can be done. 

If the problem is at work… transfer departments, avoid their workstations or simply be cordial and minimize any small talk outside of what is necessary to complete your work task. 

If on social media, block them or remove your problem by simply “unfriending” them. 

If the issue is at home, distancing yourself and limiting interaction will most certainly open the door for dialogue. 

Communication is always key when considering how to get along with difficult people, but I am aware that some people will be difficult no matter what we do.

Final Thoughts on How to Get Along with Difficult People

No one is saying that you must become best friends with a difficult person… or be the one responsible for changing them. 

However, there is a reason why their behavior affects you so significantly. 

May you are too sensitive. Or maybe you are the difficult one, not willing to change your ways or viewpoints.

Either way… this is the perfect time to self-reflect and, if necessary, intervene and influence someone's life for the better.

While not all “difficult people” are bad people, we must learn to live with them and see the best we can in them.  I believe these 13 steps on how to get along with difficult people will help you along the way.

And if you're looking for more resources, be sure check out these articles:

Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.

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