We all have difficult people in our lives, and as much as we’d like to escape them, sometimes we can’t. Therefore, we need some helpful strategies on how to deal with difficult people.

Firstly – what is a “difficult person”? There is really no such thing as a “difficult person”; rather it’s a person’s behaviours that can be difficult and hard to deal within relationships. No one wakes up one day and says: “I’m going to be super difficult and annoy those around me”. In fact, most people who exhibit difficult behaviours in their relationships are often unaware of their inappropriateness or the impact they have on others.

You have probably tried to point out the error in your “difficult person’s” ways previously. One of a few things have most likely occurred: 1) They retaliate and lash out 2) They shut down and sulk 3) They ignore you completely and change the topic. Helpful tips include:

#Tip 1. Don’t challenge a difficult person. There is just no point. They struggle to think rationally, which led them to their difficult behaviour to begin with. Despite not challenging their behaviour, it’s important to respect and care for yourself in this relationship.

#Tip 2. Respect your boundaries and needs, so firmly state your position on things. For example, if your difficult work colleague asks you take on more work, despite being already overworked, state “I’m sorry, I want to please you, but I can’t take on extra work right now”.

#Tip 3. Part of setting clear boundaries means you need to set clear expectations. This means being clear about your commitment to them. If it’s a friend or relative, set the same time each week/fortnight to see them, and be clear about the length of your stay. If it’s a boss, you may set weekly meetings that run for 1 hour, for example. Clear boundaries reduce relationship insecurity by offering assurance and predictability. Often insecurity lies behind difficult behaviours. As well, boundaries contain your own anxiety and angst, giving you sense of control.

#Tip 4. Pick your battles. Some things you just can’t let go, so you need to go into battle, to protect yourself. However, let some things go, to avoid constant conflict.

#Tip 5. Realise their strengths. If you have someone in your life exhibiting difficult behaviours, it can be hard to see past these behaviours. You tend to dread spending time with them. However, if you focus on their strengths, it can help in dealing with their difficult behaviours. Furthermore, you can even shape your relationship more around these strengths. For example, if a relative or friend is really good at cooking, spend time with them learning a recipe.

#Tip 6. Imagine them as a child when they’re being difficult. Often their behaviours stem from childhood, so it is not farfetched to picture them as a child. This technique does two things: 1) It gives you empathy (and thus, reduces the impact their behaviours have on you), and 2) You can gain insight into what’s behind their behaviours. Often the reason people are difficult is because they have an unmet need, which begun in childhood.

#Tip 7. Never take their behaviours personally. Remember that this person struggles in all their relationships and it’s not YOU who caused their behaviours.