Dealing With Difficult People

Dealing With Difficult People

This is one of our popular courses. I think many people want this course because they are uncomfortable setting boundaries or asking for what they want, or saying what makes them crazy. Much of the focus in the course is on learning to be assertive. In the workplace, where everyone has some wacky behavior to offer, it’s good to know some congenial ways to encourage civility and reduce insanity. And these aren’t skills that come easily to everyone, particularly if the difficult person is an extreme case. Hence, the popularity of this course.

Since the common workplace is an open ward into which may come anyone who meets the work requirements, one is likely to find people whom one would not seek or even tolerate in one’s personal life. In a way the difficult person at work is manageable because one can address the issue within a professional framework, perhaps minimize interactions, and when voicing complaints not have to worry about maintaining a social relationship.

But the occasional Difficult Person also enters one’s personal life. This may be a relative, a friend, a neighbor- anyone with whom you have frequent or regular interactions – who brings with them a personality trait or a behavior or a habit that you find difficult to deal with.


The Not Subtle Nosy Guy– this one asks personal questions, and since his status is family or close friend, he feels he is allowed to ask and more importantly, that you are obliged to answer. Privacy isn’t his concern so the interrogation can take place anywhere, and reference to the shared info can be made at any time. “Hey Sue, come meet Walter- he’s single!”

The Know Everything Person – the goal of this person is to know more than you do, and to have the final word on everything. He cites studies that support his opinions, which he offers as facts, and his tone of voice makes it clear that other ideas have no merit. The most dangerous aspect of this person is his ability to pull you into an argument, in which you will never prevail, because his choices are: I Win, or This isn’t Worth Discussing. And he likes to win.

The No Decision-Maker– this personwallows in waffling and can hold up any activity with inaction. Frequently, after demanding that you decide, small complaints are made about your choice. This person almost never makes a definitive statement.

These don’t sound so bad, right? But the people who have them in their lives are weary and annoyed and when they talk about them in class they say that workplace assertiveness techniques seem out of place with family members or friends. So what to do?

Good communication tells us to say what we want and what we mean in ways that protect ourselves and don’t injure the other person.

Good sense tells us not to go forth with critiques of our colleagues lest we find ourselves without any, and besides- do you want them to tell you to stop being so damned cheerful, and to maybe stop announcing the calorie count of everything?

Everyone has quirks, and a wise friend suggests that after we give ourselves the talk that includes being thankful for fam and friends, allowing some space when necessary, and accepting the bitter with the sweet, we might turn our critical eye to ourselves and scan for difficulties.

In the face of any (unlikely) defects, what would we want to happen? Would we welcome pointers from our posse, or would we hope that they are better than we are at Dealing with Difficult People?