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How to Deal with Difficult People: 10 Expert Techniques

How to Deal with Difficult People: 10 Expert Techniques

Doesn’t it seem like we deal with difficult people in almost all phases of our lives?

I’ve often had to deal with difficult people at work throughout my career. Sometimes it’s been my supervisor, other times it’s been my fellow associates and even other times, it’s people in other departments.

Then there are our families. I know it’s not just my family that can be extremely difficult to deal with. I’ve heard enough stories from friends to know that a lot of people’s families drive them to the brink from time to time.

And don’t even get me started on dealing with the multitudes of people we have to deal with at companies we interact with. Be it the cell phone company or the person that was supposed to fix my roof last year. I had to follow up every week for almost 4 months before they finally came and fixed something that should have been done in the first place.

Why was that so difficult?

There’s probably not an easy answer for why some people are difficult to deal with. The reasons are as varied as the people are. We are all different and sometimes, it’s shocking that we get along as well as we do.

Instead of analyzing why some people can be so difficult, let’s focus on what we can control — our reactions. Let’s look at 10 expert techniques to deal with difficult people.

1. Use Lots of Kindness

Look, I get it. When dealing with difficult people, the gut reaction is to be difficult right back. When it feels like someone is attacking you, your first thought is to defend yourself. I’ve been there and still get caught up in that when I don’t slow down and take a pause.

What I have found in almost every difficult situation is kindness goes a lot further than being difficult. When two people are being difficult with each other, the situation tends to escalate to a point where nothing will get accomplished.

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On the other hand, when you use lots of kindness with a difficult person many times, it diffuses the situation and you get more of what you want. This is one of the top techniques for dealing with difficult people.

2. Be Compassionate

Ever heard that saying about dealing with your own problems? That if you and a bunch of people shoved all your problems into a circle that you’d most likely take your own back once you saw everyone else’s? I love that.

The point is none of us really know what other people are going through. When dealing with a difficult person, it could be they are going through a very tough ordeal, or dealing with a really big problem you wouldn’t want any part of.

Many times when you show compassion to a person who is being difficult, you’ll find they respond in a positive manner. So many of us get stuck in our own heads and in our own lives that we don’t open our eyes to when others could use some kindness. Give it a try the next time you think about it.

3. Find Something in Common

Ever noticed how when you’re talking to someone for the first time, finding something in common creates a strong initial connection? We all love to feel like part of a group, like we belong. This is a great expert technique to deal with difficult people and one you should keep top of mind.

It’s always nice to find out we went to the same university as someone, it creates a kind of kinship. My daughters are both teenagers now but I used to feel a parental bond with someone when I found out my daughters went to the same school as their kids.

When we can find something in common with a difficult person, it can help make for a smoother conversation afterwards.

4. Stay Calm

Have you ever received an email from someone at work that immediately had you seeing red? This has happened to me on more occasions than I care to remember.

Working with a difficult person on a project can be infuriating. At my less rational moments, I’ve received an email from a difficult person whose only purpose seems to be making things harder and more confusing. When I haven’t paused before responding what usually happens is, I fire off an email that will only serve to make things worse.

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Typically, if I can find the patience to stay calm and wait a while before responding, the results are much better. The ability to stay calm when dealing with a difficult person will help you greatly.

5. Share Your Side

Sometimes, being able to articulate to a difficult person where you are coming from will make a big difference.

For instance, if you’ve been running into brick wall after brick wall and the difficult person is your last avenue for resolution, sometimes that makes a difference.

Some people get caught in a standard script of how to deal in certain situations or when someone asks a certain question. If you can provide some context around your specific situation, sometimes that makes a huge difference.

You could let them know you’ve trying to solve your problem for months and you’ve tried X,Y, and Z but can’t get anywhere. Sometimes this is all it takes to open the empathy gates to some extent and get some help. Give it a shot.

6. Treat with Respect

I don’t know a single person who likes to be treated like they are stupid or incompetent. When dealing with a difficult person, always remember to treat them with respect. Once you start attacking someone and acting like they are stupid you might as well be slamming the door shut to get anything done.

Treating someone disrespectfully will almost always make things worse and at a bare minimum make the other person not want to do anything to assist you. It’s the same as remembering the golden rule “treat others as you would like to be treated”. Our mothers are almost always right.

7. Ignore Them

I’m a huge proponent of not interacting with negative people in my life. Why should I? All they seem to do is provide negative input and I don’t need any of that.

By the same token, sometimes the best course of action with a difficult person is to ignore or avoid them. This of course will depend if you can ignore them.

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For instance if this is a fellow co-worker that you don’t have to work with much, it may be best to simply ignore them if you can.

Same thing with neighbors or certain people at stores or even potentially customers. Sometimes difficult customers are simply not worth dealing with. Their needs could be better served elsewhere and it’s not always a bad idea to let them know they could probably find someone else who could assist them in the way they are wanting.

8. Control What You Can

Many things in life we can control and many things we can’t. It’s always best to focus on what we can control.

When dealing with a difficult person, think about what you are able to control. Maybe there’s someone else you can deal with instead of the difficult person. They may be simply the first step in the chain.

Recently, I was attempting to work with the marketing department on a new initiative I was putting together. I was told to contact a certain person for help because that’s what had always been done. When I contacted the person, I never got a response. I sent multiple emails and left several voicemails and never heard back from this person. After getting extremely frustrated from never hearing back, I simply started asking other people in marketing.

Lo and behold, I found several people that were willing to help me with my project and with a smile. I basically worked my way around the difficult person. Control what you can.

9. Look at Yourself

Another one of the 10 expert techniques to deal with difficult people is to take a look at yourself. As in turn your focus inward. Is there something that you are doing that is making dealing with someone harder than it needs to be?

For instance in general, I am in a pretty good mood. I interact with people all day just about everyday and overall, it goes fairly smoothly.

Sometimes, I’ve got a lot of my mind and am trying to solve a problem of some sort inside my head, even when talking to other people. It has been pointed out to me that I can come across as short, abrupt, and condescending when I am spending a lot of time inside my own head and also interacting with others.

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So in this instance, my short condescending responses can make an already agitated person even more upset. Basically the way I respond is adding fuel to the fire.

Take a look at how you are interacting with difficult people to ensure you aren’t making it worse.

10. Overcome Your Fear of Conflict

One of the best techniques for dealing with difficult people is overcoming your fear of conflict. Many people are afraid of conflicts and this can lead to having difficult people walk all over them.

Dealing with a difficult person is challenging enough but if you don’t stand up for yourself and establish boundaries, it’s even worse. Just about everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Don’t allow yourself to be treated poorly by a difficult person.

I’m not advocating intentionally starting conflict. What I am advocating is not fearing conflict in the event a difficult person is treating you poorly. Too many people allow others to have control over them by not standing up for themselves when needed.

Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. In many instances, it’s good because it can allow a resolution to come to fruition: How to Turn Any Conflicts into Opportunities

The Bottom Line

Difficult people are all around us in every aspect of our lives. I’ve certainly worked with many difficult people over the years as well as in everyday interactions with people in a wide variety of settings. I’m hopeful these 10 expert techniques to deal with difficult people will help you the next time the situation arises.

Communication with other people is such a huge key to living our lives. It’s well worth learning some techniques to deal with difficult people to help us all live happier lives.

More Tips on Conflicts Management

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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