By Dr Neeta Pant

The greatest stress you go through when dealing with a difficult person is not fuelled by the words or actions of this person, it is fuelled by your mind that gives their words and actions importance.

Do we all not continuously forced or expected to work alongside people who we
would prefer avoiding? Don’t we all at times get so frustrated that we want to
scream out loud or just want to kick someone out of out lives. Let’s be true, we all
do! The actions, intentions, or the attitude of peers at time becomes unbearable. At
work, we all encounter considerable amount of difficult people; they can be bullies,
demanding, negative thinkers, loud mouths, gossip mongers, non-team players,
under-miners, non-listeners, stubborn and what not…. Circumstances may become
maddening, frustrating, and frightening too for us to handle.

One thing is common amongst all difficult people, they need to be addressed. Else,
bad behavior or attitude will become a habit for them. Whatever may be the
circumstance, however difficult the situation may be, we must address them.
Everyone has bad days and experiences thoughtless moments, but, if the behavior
continues, or worse, escalates, we must address the behavior.

Some common behaviours of difficult people

1) Taking credit for other people’s jobs
2) Double standard personalities
3) Shouting at others
4) Endless talkers & Non-listeners
5) Non Team Players
6) Underminers & Stubborn
7) Always criticising
8) Work-bullies
9) Gossip-mongers
10) Demanding
11) Aggressive, Rude & Anxious Behaviour
12) Always competing for no reason
13) Spotlight seekers
14) Blaming others constantly
15) Lacks empathy, compassion or concern
16) Callous Behaviour
17) Superiority complex; Unnecessary show off
18) Distrusting of others
19) Selfish, all about me approach

20) Stealing ideas and thoughts and showing them as your own

Types of difficult people

Difficult people come in different guises. They get in our way, unintentionally or
deliberately too. They obstruct us from achieving our organisational goals. Few are –

1) Downers – are almost impossible to please. They will always have
something bad to say, will constantly criticise and judge. Their intention is to
pull us down all the time.

2) Whiners – Whiners have a problem with almost everything that’s going on
around them. They simply love to complain and crib and would like to dwell in
their own perceived issues.

3) Snippers – If words are weapons, they certainly can kill. They expertise in
using sarcasm and make rude comments to hurt your feelings. They generally
have like thinly veiled contempt behind their actions.

4) Know It All – Like the label suggests, they know everything and also have
opinion on everything. They tend to talk in generalisations and hold high
opinion of their own opinions. They like to try impressing others and draw
comparisons. You contradict someone who is ‘know It All’, you’re in for

5) Grenades – They bottle up their anger and then let it explode on others.
Mostly, their anger won’t even be about the subject at hand. They are
generally confrontational and can be a handful as well as bossy. They want
their way and will do anything to get it.

6) Yes Person – You will have a “yes” from them for almost everything but later
they will hold resentment for their very long to-do lists.

7) No Person – They would always try to discourage you from what you are
doing, no matter what.

8) Passives – These will contribute nothing. They let others do the hard work.
If you coax something out of them, it will be of no value add.

9) Pessimists – Always end up saying ‘That’s not possible because ……’ or
‘That won’t work because ……’ when presented with an idea. If a proposal has
10 positive aspects and 1 negative one, they focus only on the negative one.

10) Pedantics – However urgent the situation might be and speed is needed,
they will insist on following the rules word by word. They are more concerned
about doing things the right way even if it means missing the goal. They do
not have situational flexibility and rigid.

11) Showman – They talk too much even when they do not have anything worth
saying. They want their voice to be heard and to be the star of the show. Any
meeting they are in, they waste others’ time without anything productive to

12) Bystander – Happy to stand on the side lines but do not take action as for
them ‘That’s not my job’. They don’t take responsibility for anything outside of
their perceived domain.

13) I’m Too Busy – When asked for their input, they say ‘I haven’t got time to do
that.’ They are incapable of thinking rationally, and do get upset if you want to
pile yet more on their to-do list.

14) Players – Players of office politics. Their motive is to make you look bad in
other’s eyes and obstruct your progress. Last minute, they will do something
that will make them look the ‘hero’ and will end up receiving lots of praises.

15) Ditherers – Would hesitate conveying you a decision and will always reply
‘Let me get back to you’. If you chase them up, they will probably trick you off
with another delay. Ditherers’ indecision is motivated by differing factors and
all of them can severely slow down your progress.

Why must we deal with these difficult people?

  1. If left unaddressed, the situation can get worse. It may give rise to
    unnecessary conflicts which simmer below the surface and then erupts above
    the surface at work as counter-productive.
  2. Constant complaining about the fellow-worker or situation can earn us the title
    of whiner or complainer. People will wonder why we are unable to solve our
    own problems.
  3. We may end up being perceived as immature professionals who are unable to
    handle situations. We may end us getting labelled as a ‘difficult’ person
    which can have consequences for our profession.
  4. We may earn a title of a ‘high maintenance’ worker if the situation lingers on
    which may have devastating impact on our career.

15 powerful strategies to deal with difficult people –

1) Exhibit Kindness & Compassion – Nothing will get accomplished if two
people are being difficult with each other. Perhaps using kindness with a
difficult person may diffuse the situation and we may get more of what we
want. When we show compassion, chances are that we get them to
respond positively.

2) Be Non-Judgemental & Respectful – Many a times one becomes
difficult if one is going through a tough ordeal. If a person is acting
unreasonable, high chances are that they are feeling some sort of
vulnerability or fear. We must listen & understand to gain perspective, not
judge them.  Generally, people know when they were wrong and if their
behaviour was good or bad. Showing respect, even when it is not
deserved, may compel their behaviour to change.

3) Stay Calm & Listen – When a situation is emotionally charged, losing
temper is not going to help. When the difficult person sees us in calm
demeanour despite his/her actions, we might get their attention and
desirable results too. Be there to listen to them and while listening, focus
on what they want to say rather than what you want to say next. Try
listening to them to discern their hurt or frustration.

4) Understand The Person’s Intentions – No one is difficult for the sake of
being difficult, there certainly must be some underlying current. Try
finding what is stopping him/her to cooperate. Is there something that can
be done to help them to resolve the situation?

5) Identify Hidden Needs – There is always a hidden need that led to
difficult behaviours. It could be like losing a parent, failed relationship,
health issues etc. To cope, perhaps the person is taking their stress out
on everyone that crosses their path.

6) Get Some Perspective From Others – Seek opinions from people who
have experienced similar situations in some way or another. They would
be able to see things from different perspective and may offer a different
resolution and a neutral perspective. It is a way of finding out “if it is them
or me.”

7) Explain Your Intentions – People sometimes resist or are being difficult
because they do not understand our intentions behind our actions.
Explaining where you are coming from, it might enable them to
empathise with our situation. This lets them get them on-board much

8) Nothing Personal – Difficult behaviour might be originating from that
individual’s belief system, we must not take it personally. Many a times
we end up saying – they are doing that on purpose. Think about it, if we
give credit to others for knowing our triggers, we need to be aware of our

9) Set Limits And Boundaries – There are times where being friendly with,
listening to, complementing doesn’t work.  In these instances, it is time to
distance ourself or limit interaction with them as best we can. We have
the right to be assertive and set our boundaries.

10) Self-Reflection – Self-reflection certainly helps. Think hard to
understand why their behaviour is bothering us so much. The possibility is
that we may be the difficult one that people have issues with. It might be
a difficult pill to swallow but we may be able to notice that perhaps we
think that we are rubbed the wrong way but it could be the other way

Key Takeaways

1) It is not them, it’s their behaviour – People aren’t their behavior. It’s
not the person, it’s the behavior. People can change as they are spectrum
of possibilities.

2) People demonstrate patterns of behaviour – We can identify these
patterns that will help us anticipate, interact, react and manage more

3) There is a background – One important continuum that explains difficult
behaviour is the background to their thought process, their belief system
which propels them in being difficult.

4) Passive vs. Aggressive – Another important continuum that explains
why people do what they do is their level of assertiveness. Few
demonstrate more passive behaviour, while others demonstrate more
aggressive behaviour.

5) Our own reaction – How are we perceiving & handling difficult
behaviour depends upon our own life situations & circumstances, thought
process, belief system as well.

6) Everybody is Somebody’s Difficult Person – Difficult people are all
relative. If we are facing difficult people, we may be posing difficulties for
others as well.

7) Balance is the Mantra – At the end of the day, it’s demonstrating
balance that helps keep behaviour in check.

8) Acknowledge Differences – People just become ‘difficult’ to deal with,
in some situations. People have a different personality as compared to us
and we might find that hard to deal with. There are people who simply
have difficult personality traits.

Idea here is not that we must become best friends with a difficult person or be the
one responsible for changing them. We must understand that there is a reason why
their behaviour affects us so significantly.  May be, we are too sensitive or maybe we
are the difficult one, not willing to change our ways or viewpoints. Either way, this is
the perfect time to self-reflect and, if necessary, intervene and influence someone’s
life for the better. While not all “difficult people” are bad people, we must learn to live
with them and see the best we can in them. 

Difficult people may be your greatest gift in attaining the character

~ Vincent Thomas

By Dr Neeta Pant

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