Have you come across people who are impossible to deal with? Someone whose dinner invitation you’d decline with excuses just to avoid meeting them? No matter where you go, you’ll find that difficult people are everywhere.

‘Difficulty’ manifests itself in various ways—those who don’t turn in their work on time, who are always late to meetings, refuse to collaborate or don’t let you speak. Analyzing what you find difficult about others can help you be prepared for every type of situation and various kinds of difficult people. Read on to see how you can manage difficult people tactfully.

Types Of Difficult People

David Brown, the author of The Art and Science of Dealing with Difficult People, suggests several types of difficult people in his book. Here are some common types:

  • Perfectionists, who are highly critical of themselves and others
  • Control freaks, who constantly want to monitor everybody and everything
  • Aggressive or defensive people, who are quick to argue
  • Submissive people, who are easily influenced

How To Deal With Difficult People At Work

Difficult people are usually unaware of the negative impact they have on those around them. They create unnecessary complexity and stress, which ultimately affects your performance. In order to function efficiently, you should know how to handle difficult people. Several studies show that well-performing employees use good coping mechanisms to manage their interactions with difficult people. Here are a few effective strategies that’ll teach you how to deal with difficult people:

  1. Set Limits

People with a negative attitude fail to focus on solutions. They keep circling back to their problems and complain endlessly. It’s easy to feel pressured and get sucked into a similar headspace. Avoid this by setting boundaries and distancing yourself when necessary. You can try redirecting negative conversations in a productive direction.

  1. Widen Your Perspective

If someone behaves in a displeasing way, take a moment to understand why they may have done it. Don’t be quick to pass judgments; look at the situation from a broader perspective. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are my biases affecting my perspectives?

  • Am I skipping or missing any facts here?

  • What if my feelings are wrong?

  • What does the other person feel in this situation?

Turn a difficult moment into a learning experience by looking at the bigger picture.

  1. Act, Don’t React

There will be times when you lose your temper or respond in inappropriate ways when interacting with difficult people. To avoid this, learn how to manage your emotions. Think of alternate ways in which you can respond to the situation. Take a step back, collect your thoughts and separate your emotions from your reactions. Here are a few ways to manage your reactions:

  • Establish boundaries on what constitutes acceptable behavior

  • Actively listen to the other person and respond respectfully

  • Try finding solutions together, not problems

  1. Try A Sandwich Approach

Difficult conversations are tricky, you may end up hurting the other person. Use a sandwich approach of communication—start with an empathetic statement, get to the difficult part and end with a positive comment. For example, ‘I know it’s been a stressful week for you. However, your reaction was uncalled for and you shouldn’t have lost your temper like that. I’d appreciate it if you could take some time to reflect on your actions. Let me know if I can help’.

  1. Share With A Friend

Share what you’re experiencing with a trusted friend or colleague. You can brainstorm ways to address the situation in a mature way. Sharing your feelings helps reduce stress. For example, you’re unable to focus on work because you’re intimidated by the new head of the department. Your colleague can speak about his interactions with the head and help you look at the situation from a different angle. It may help reduce your fear or discomfort.


It’s not easy taking the high road in every situation. There will be times when others may perceive you as being difficult too. It’s crucial to manage your emotions alongside any conflict.

Harappa Education’s Navigating Workplaces course will teach you different techniques to handle workplace conflict. Gauge what works best at your workplace by using the Culture Fit framework. Additionally, the Thomas Kilmann Model will teach you various techniques of navigating conflict.

Ronald Reagan, former President of the United States said it best, “peace is not the absence of conflict, it’s the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means”.

Explore topics such as Managing Conflict, Types of Conflict, Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode & Functional and Dysfunctional Conflict from our Harappa Diaries section and handle conflicts effectively.

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