A to Z of Soft Skills: D for Deal With Difficult People

Every time I begin to watch The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon gets on my nerves within episodes. He dominates, bullies and gets his way no matter how unreasonable he is. And what gets my goat even more is that his the friends “knuckle under”. And they suggest that Penny also do the same. Thankfully that woman has sense and refuses and gets her way in the end. Sheldon is difficult to live with. And if this were real life, it would be very important for his friends to find a way to deal with him than just submit to his irrational rules. 

We all come across difficult people in our lives – work, home, social circle. They could be negative colleagues, fault finding bosses, clingy subordinates, unreasonable relatives or bossy friends. And the reason why they are difficult is that they are hard to deal with. So what do we do? Well! There are several things one can do and this post is about the many options you can explore depending on the situation.

No matter what someone makes you feel – dominated, bullied, irritated, insulted – a three step process to follow would be:

– Recognize the triggers – what is that someone says or does that…..

– Acknowledge the feelings – accept that you feel a certain way

– Choose appropriate action – It’s the way we react that makes all the difference

And here are tips to choose from:

Keep your cool. I know some people can really get on our nerves. Whether it’s a nagging boss or an inquisitive neighbour, just keep your cool! Ask yourself, “Is it worth getting upset about?” A lot of times, it’s not as bad as we think it is. We might over-react due to general stress and pressure of work and life.

Smile. Breath deeply. These are signals to the brain that every thing is fine. This will help you calm down and your responses will be controlled. Sometimes, a smile is enough to tell people off and they may actually stop irritating you.

Ask questions: If people complain, find out what the real issue is? If someone doesn’t co-operate, ask if there is something you can do to help. If someone is on a fault finding spree with your work, ask what’s it really about. This helps unearth the real issues instead of just jump to conclusions.

Listen: Listening is important – it’ll help you understand what are people really saying – if their complaints are actually genuine or they are just having a bad day. A co-worker might be regularly late for some reason. Instead of straight away blaming for being lax, listening can help understand the situation better and respond accordingly.

Always address the behaviour, not the person: Never say something like, “You always do this”. Making generalizations is akin to blaming and makes people defensive. This doesn’t really solve any real issues. Use sentences like, “I feel…” This helps keep the focus on what’s really bothering you and needs to be addressed. 

Broach in private: Don’t ever confront anyone in public. It is always a good idea to talk one-to-one where people can feel safe to voice their opinions.

Be assertive: If appropriate, be assertive and claim your rights. For instance, your colleague might borrow your stationery and not put it back. This can be a major inconvenience if you are looking for a pen in the middle of a phone conversation. It’s a good idea to be assertive and explain how that behaviour affects your work.

Pick your battles: There are all kinds of people in the world. Confront only people and issues that are really worth it and get in the way of your quality of life. Finding faults with everyone is not going to help.

Distance yourself: If it is a nosy neighbour or a member of the extended family, this can always be an option. I myself try not to run into neighbours I don’t like. Even at work, you can stop hanging out with people who really bother you. Even if some of those people are from your team, keep it limited to professional communication.

Talk to your seniors. Sometimes, involving the team leader or your boss can help sort out certain situations. But this needs to be done with diplomacy lest you turn off the higher ups. If you have a co-operative senior, who will understand and support you, it’s a great idea to seek his or her support.

In conclusion, maturity and good sense is all we need to deal with some kind of people. Don’t get worked up and choose your battles.

As you can see, I’m doing an A to Z of soft skills and will cover 26 skills in as many posts with tips on how to improve on them. If you like my posts, so share on your network and tell people about it.

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    1. I’m glad you find the post useful! Thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving your valuable comments! 🙂

  1. inquisitivegeet

    I take Sheldon as a fictional character and enjoy the way he does things! Of course, it would be a task to live with a person like him!
    My husband is a difficult man! Difficult in the sense that he says No to almost everything! Taking up adventures, doing new things, doing things spontaneously… he always refuses! What do I do of him ? 😛

    On the other side, this post is really insightful and the tips here can be of lot of help!


    1. One has to find one’s way out with the spouse. Work around something he’ll find the least objectionable and more likely to agree to. All the best! 🙂

  2. Dealing with difficult people is difficult, but a much-needed art.
    Staying cool is important.
    Smiling may anger them! 🙂

  3. a similar case which I always talk about is Dr House MD. People love the show (I do too) but the truth is as a doctor, if I had to have a senior staff like Dr House, there would be murder! 😀
    Forget me, I can’t imagine Indian patients would take too kindly to House’s snarky comments on them!


  4. Well I’ve been there! But I’m sure your tips will help me deal with such situations better. Great tips 🙂

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