Let’s face it, some people can be extremely difficult to get along with or maintain a cordial relationship with. Unfortunately, many of us seem to know or work with someone seems to be in a constant state of misery, chronically sarcastic, confrontational, aggressive, condescending, etc. There are also some people that go to extraordinary lengths to be combative and difficult. Difficult people often elevate provocation to an art form. Interestingly, many people that exhibit challenging or otherwise undesirable behaviors do so under the belief “if you do not agree with me and everything I do and say, then you are against me”.

Indicators You May Be Dealing with a Challenging Person:

  • Quick to anger
  • Erratic/unstable behavior
  • Provocative behavior
  • Misleading and or deceptive behavior
  • Large ego, “all about them”
  • Self-serving behaviors
  • Argumentative/combative
  • Have very few or no friends
  • Engages in demeaning or condescending behaviors or language
  • Difficulty managing emotions
  • Often take on a victim stance
  • They do not take responsibility for mistakes or their actions, i.e., it is always someone else fault.
  • Menacing behaviors

When engaging with a person with challenging behaviors the best way to cope is to avoid getting into a relentless “tit for tat”. Most people that exhibit challenging behaviors often lose sight of the real issues, rather they become consumed with being “right”, or “winning’ an argument. One of the worst things you can do when dealing with a difficult person is to meet combativeness with combativeness, meet resistance with resistance, etc.

The best course of action one can take when dealing with a challenging personality is to stay calm, rational, and topic focused. It can be very tempting to responded in a heated fashion with someone that is being utterly ridiculous, however, responding in a like manner will get you nowhere. Instead try this, ask the challenging person what is upsetting them (you will find when emotions are running rampant they would likely have forgotten why they are angry), resist the urge to continue the conversation (ideally, you want to wait until cooler heads can prevail), ask yourself is the contact or conversation with the challenging person is even necessary (if not avoid all conversation or contact), explore your own reasons for responding to the challenging person negatively (is this person really upsetting me or is there something else going on), etc.

Potential Questions to Ask Yourself Before Engaging with a Challenging Person:

  • Is it worth your efforts to discuss the issue with the challenging person?
  • What outcome would I like to have happen after the interaction or conversation?
  • Do I really have to have contact with this person?
  • Is this person able to discuss pertinent concerns in a healthy manner?
  • Can I respectfully disagree without making the situation worst?

Things to be Mindful of When Engaging with a Challenging Person:

  • Relationship with challenging person (family member, co-worker, boss, etc.)
  • Triggers (what is it specifically that upsets me about this person)
  • Stick to the facts or relevant topics
  • Defensiveness
  • Environment (neutral)
  • Emotional response or reactiveness
  • Tolerance level
  • Acceptance (some people you can get through to, some people will remain difficult)
  • Understanding of your own strength and weaknesses

Realize there will always be challenging or otherwise difficult people, you cannot control their behavior or response, however, you can control your own behavior and response. No matter where you live or work, you will encounter people who seem to display little regard or courtesy for the feelings and well-being of others. The key is to understand difficult people are everywhere, learn how to deal with them, manage your feelings, or know when it is better to avoid them. Unfortunately, some challenging people are impossible to avoid, however, it may help you to identify potential strategies that may be useful with managing your interactions as well as your emotional response to their behavior.