How to Deal with Difficult People

One of the great lessons I learned in life was to stop focusing on other people and to focus on what I could change about me. I only wish it had happened twenty years earlier. I especially wish I knew how to deal with difficult people in my life.

I have made every mistake in the book and then some; but after all those mistakes and writing hundreds of articles about resolving conflict in the workplace, dealing with bullies, and trying to improve the health and wellness of the modern workplace, I finally got it.

There are some common characteristics of difficult people but every single difficult person that we encounter is different. That makes it harder to prescribe a simple remedy and needs a wide arsenal of tools in order to deal with “your” difficult person. Yet, two things are almost always true about any difficult person.

Two Absolute Truths About Difficult People

1. You cannot change them: No matter what you do, you cannot change someone. They have hardened their skins and their brains against any attempt to alter their behaviors and they are determined to stay as they are.

2. It’s better to work on yourself or the situation: Secondly, if you are particularly bothered by someone then you have to do something about yourself or the situation. As Mahatma Gandhi said “You must be the change that you want to see in the world.” But if it makes you feel any better go ahead and try to change the difficult person in your life. Let me know how that works out for you.

How to Deal with Difficult People

The good news is that if you are willing to do them there are lots of things you can actually change about yourself, at any age. They include your thinking when you are open to new ideas and your attitude when you are willing to try a different approach. When you are faced with a particularly difficult situation in your life it’s important to remember that you always have choices.

The first is whether or not you want to stay in that situation. This can apply to a job or a company or organization, a relationship or even a marriage, small situations like a restaurant that is too crowded or noisy for you to feel comfortable. There are consequences which may be extreme or very minute but don’t fall into the trap of saying that you are stuck. You always have a choice.

If your decision is to stay in that noisy café, lousy job or unsatisfying relationship, then you will still have choices but they will be limited. It is unlikely that the company you work for will suddenly change how it treats you or that the restaurant owner will shut up and tell everybody else to be quiet. It is almost equally unlikely that the other person in your marriage is going to change the way you want, no matter how much you may want it.

The reality is that you can either accept the difficult situation or person exactly as they are and hope that someday they or you do something to improve it. That doing begins with you — change what you can. One path will let you sleep at night; the other has the potential to become a living nightmare. The choice is up to you.

So what have you chosen? Tell us how you deal with difficult people or situations in your life.

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Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can


  1. Wasim Ismail on the 12th October

    Like you said “You can not change them”.
    When working with individuals, I guess you have to be that extra careful, and chose wisely whom you work with. If you do find your self in a situation with a difficult person, best thing to do is stay clam, and politely move apart.

  2. Max (ML Quotes) on the 12th October

    When dealing with difficult people, I try to use the mantra “be patient”. I’ve learned that if I can be tolerant long enough, difficult people tend to lose energy and they become more open to solutions or to change their minds.
    This is the passive way of dealing, but of course, the active way is sometimes necessary to really advance things the way I want it.

    I think it takes experience to know when to choose the passive or active way.

    “If you want plenty of experience in dealing with difficult people, then have kids.” Bo Bennett

  3. Jeff on the 12th October

    Nicely said – stop wasting time trying to change others and instead focus on yourself.

    I’d love to hear more examples though about how to handle the situation when it’s not reasonable to leave the situation.

    • Mike Martin on the 19th October

      Hi Jeff. That is exactly what I talk about in my book. The possibilities are endless if you decide you want to deal with a difficult person or situation that you can longer tolerate. Leaving is the last option.
      Mike Martin

    • Ahmed raza on the 23rd November

      You have to be the change you want to see in the woeld

  4. Batyr on the 16th October

    ”How to Deal with Difficult People” – when I first read the title I wished that it was not communication tips and caharecteritics of the poeple around us. Though, the timing could not be better for me – I wanted to work on my acts, my thoughts – myself. The article was way better than I had expected. Thanks for the great work.

  5. Paul on the 17th October

    I’ve chosen the nightmare.

  6. Steffan Chyzak on the 17th October

    Sometimes, its ‘us’ who are the difficult people. So therefore the difficult person can change, its more a question of changing yourself for the better, not for the situation.

    Great post, great replies. It really helps to know that it is not just yourself that find certain individuals hard to cope with.

    “You’re never alone.” said the void in my head.

  7. Health and Wellness on the 18th October

    You are right, difficult people will never change for your own sake. You just have to find ways how to avoid getting into situations that may bring up conflicts. If that difficult person is your boss, well it’s better to follow all his/her ego or you may quit your job if you can’t stand your boss anymore.

    Nice article!

  8. liz miller on the 24th November

    I am searching for answers,we recentlly sold our bakery on land contract but part of deal was we stay on board 50/50 till next June..well its been a trip we hav had so many things between us I just don’t knnow should we back away o should we take it back how do I stay a christian wth so much evil sent at us when in all reality we know our business,but we hav on paper she is 50.if u feel le to share advice that wud be great

  9. tashi on the 5th July

    Ok, tell me what you’d do in a situation like this. I stay with my mother and I have a 5 year old son. I left an abusive situation. My mother isn’t supportive, she’s manipulative, miserable and like to control everything. I have 7 siblings but my mother has them under control, she emailed me while we’re in the same house about me leaving, also 2 weeks before the email we got into a big argument because I told my son to do something and she told me not to tell him to do what I told him to do. I’m a full grown woman. I’m stressed from being in this situation, stressed with my toddler who can’t understand why we have to whisper or try not to be seen by her so she won’t huff and puff or cause a problem. she stressing me out to the point I can’t move or think. I get exhausted quick just trying to think of what next. I sold my car to use the money to move to another state, but then became afraid something may happen to me and my son. My past struggles and abusive relationship caused me to be afraid of many things.I want to tell her I’d rather die than to live with her, but I just mnd my business and keep to myself. She faints or have fake heart attacks then calls my siblings to make it seem like im putting pressure on her. She has no idea the trauma I just been through I cant concentrate i want out but i dnt want my move to be a bad or wrong move so im miserable and hesitant, with now only $800 in my pocket. What should I do? Oh ps I can’t sleep

  10. Elena on the 26th January

    1) If it is your mother’s house, then it is her rules you must follow.
    2) If what you told your son to do has no impact on her or her house, then you have reason to be concerned, but if it affects her in some way, then you are in the wrong.
    Imagine if it was YOUR house and your mother lived in it, would you not expect her to follow your rules in it?
    3) if your siblings show her respect and caring then you must learn to do the same, otherwise see if any of them would like to share their house with you.
    4) If it is her house and she wants things done her way, then that is not controlling of you, just being assertive about her own situation.
    5) if, on the other hand, she tells you where to go, who to see, what to wear etc, things that are YOUR domain, then yes, she is controlling.
    Since you gave no examples, it is hard to tell which it is.
    There are situations where you are in charge, and others where you must follow the rules of others.
    Being a guest in someone’s house, even if it is your mother’s , you should behave like a guest, not the owner.

  11. Scott on the 27th January

    I think it’s about using your time wisely. We choose (for the most part) who and how often we interact with it. If you can control it, choose not to be around someone who is difficult. If you’re forced to interact, make it quick and be as objective as possible (not to stir up any emotions on both sides). You’re right about change. You can’t change others, but you can change how you react to them. Pick your battles. A lot of the times people who don’t change are more predictable. It’s not worth your time or energy getting upset with someone you don’t actually care about.

  12. John Guanci on the 29th January

    I worked in a toxic, verbally abusive business partnership for over eight years. I made a very good living financially but I was in a no win situation. My partner was a poor communicator and loved to play the martyr. Initially, I tried to diffuse the situation by ignoring him completely. This worked well with keeping my emotions in check, but not communicating was clearly bad for business. Employees began to lose morale and stress mounted. I made the decision to leave and start my own business. Its the best decision I’ve made in my life thus far. Its scary at times; having left a secure money source behind, but I’ll be better off for it in the long run. Sometimes you got to give up the good and go for the great.

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