Getting Along with Difficult People

Angry peopleWe have all encountered someone who we have a difficult time getting along with. Reasons vary for why we struggle to get along with some people, while we seem to have no problem with others.

With some, it is the short fuse or seemly uncontrollable anger. Others might have mood swings that make them hard to get along with because you can never tell what temper they’ll be in at any given time. Others are overly sarcastic. Then there are those who are never wrong and nothing is ever their fault; they are masters of blame-shifting.

We have all encountered someone who is challenging to be around, whether at home or work. It may be a family member, a neighbor, a friend or an acquaintance. As a matter of fact, sometimes we are the ones who are hard to get along with. But let me offer some guidance for getting along with difficult people.

Set boundaries. Where possible find a way to convey to the other person what behaviors are acceptable and what are not. I once worked for a company where I was the one who was asked to deal with difficult customers. As I would begin the conversation, I would say to the customer, “If you raise your voice at me, call me a name that is meant to be an insult, or swear at me, this conversation is over.” You would be surprised at how quickly these sometimes very irate customers became calm and reasonable. Some people are difficult to get along with because you allow them to be so by not setting boundaries.

Setting boundaries also means knowing where you end and others begin. You have to learn how not to be consumed by the behaviors and emotional outbursts of others. You do not have to be angry because the person you are talking with is angry; you do not have to raise your voice because they are raising theirs. You allow difficult people to control you when you take on their demeanor in the course of dealing with them. For example, you show up for work in a good frame of mind to find your boss or coworker sulking or upset, and before you know it, you too are sulking or upset.

Get to know the person. Another approach to dealing with difficult people is to get to know the person. By this I mean take time to find out what is really going on that makes them so angry, sad, depressed or obnoxious all the time. A lot of people are difficult because they are afraid, hurting or insecure. Rather than reaching out for help, they appear difficult to get along with so as not to show that they are hurting, afraid or insecure.

Realize the influence you can have. In the same way you have the potential to be influenced by the attitudes, moods and behaviors of difficult people, you too have the potential to influence their behavior. Try to be consistent with how you behave toward the difficult person by being controlled, calm and respectful when interacting with them. Rather than allowing them to take over, let the power of your kindness, respect and calm alter how they interact with you. Be intentional in not allowing the difficult person’s attitude, behavior, mood and anger to be what define the interaction. Instead focus on maintaining respect, calm and kindness toward the difficult individual.

When dealing with difficult people, sometimes we will need to minimize contact rather than seeking to change the way they interact with you. But with those with whom you must interact, take action to improve how you get along with them.

Are you currently faced with the challenge of having to interact with a difficult person? Can you use any of the suggestions made above to help you manage you interactions in a more positive way? If you’ve found these suggestions helpful and you want to share your story, please do contact me.

If you would like help in achieving your goals in any area of your life, call us at 208-880-0307 or email us at to schedule a complimentary coaching session. To read Errol’s other posts, visit Christ-Centered Life Coaching.

Photo credit: alvaro tapia hidalgo / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND