How To Deal With Difficult People… And Care For Yourself

I speak often about the value of Responding not Reacting when training clients how to deal with difficult people. I believe it’s a critical concept for individuals and companies looking to increase employee engagement, empower collaboration and improve productivity.

The difficult people we encounter may be upset family members, customers / suppliers, or associates. Whoever they are and whatever the reason they are triggered, they may be feeling:

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

  • Overwhelmed
  • Frustrated by a perceived previous lack of service
  • Disappointed
  • Embarrassed
  • Happy only when they are being negative

It really doesn’t matter who, what, when or where; the good news is that knowing how to deal with difficult people means we keep two important things top of mind:

  • Protect our own physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Most of the time every problem needs two solutions. By this I mean we have to find:
    • A personal, emotional resolution
    • A problem, logistical resolution

For Example: If I’m upset because of a manufacturer defect with my car, getting my car fixed will be important but the emotional distress of ‘feeling abandoned’ on the highway and missing an important meeting will be something to also address.

How To Deal With Difficult People: Tips

There are times when you wont be able to satisfy someone, but these tips will give you a place to start with people who do want a satisfactory resolution. 

  1. Practice Active Listening – be Mindful and listen with an open mind
  2. Don’t take someones aggression personally
  3. Turn off your ‘Autopilot’ and treat every situation as unique
  4. Use empathy and compassion to try to understand their point of view
  5. It’s good to say ‘I understand’ but don’t say ‘I agree’
  6. Be honest and sincere
  7. Respect how much time everyone is investing
  8. Sometimes it is good to go for a walk or take a moment to quietly care for yourself. 

Your manager is there to support and mentor you when you need it… but be careful of stressing out your co-workers or family. Also remember to share the problem with your manager, especially if it can be prevented for others in the future.


We all deserve to be happy at work and at home.

Sometimes we’re not going to be able to fix the situation no matter how mindful our intentions are. But, most of the time we’ll be able to make difficult people happy.

To paraphrase Reinhold Niebuhr
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the
things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Happy communicating and dealing with difficult people effectively.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

One Response to How To Deal With Difficult People… And Care For Yourself

  1. david_h says:

    Reblogged this on Getting Things Done accountant and commented:
    I like this – especially turning off your ‘Autopilot’.

    I’d also comment that it’s a good idea to ‘seek first to understand then to be understood’.

I’ll enjoy reading your thoughts and your experiences.

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