How to Engage with Difficult People

We 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 so you can never tell at any given interaction what mood the person’s in. 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 difficult to be around, whether at home or work; it may be a family member, a neighbor, a friend, a coworker or an acquaintance. As a matter of fact, sometimes we are the one who is difficult to get along with. The reality is you cannot avoid having to deal with difficult people, they are part of life. Here are some suggestions for interacting 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 must 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 when dealing with them. For example, you show up for work in happy frame of mind, but when you arrive you find that your boss or coworker is sulking or upset and before you know it, you too are sulking or upset.

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 they are hurting, afraid or insecure. There are four things you can always engage a person in conversation with—family, occupation/career, recreation/hobby, and dreams. Often you will find the most difficult person you know will begin to soften when asked about one of these four things.

You can influence their behaviour. 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, why not work toward kindness, respect and calm becoming 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 us. But with those with whom you must interact, you can take action to improve how you get along with them.

If you would like help in achieving your goals as a leader or 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.