Tips on How to Deal with Difficult People Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Tips on How to Deal with Difficult People

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Someone standing in front of a wall ignoring the person behind it

Having an encounter with a difficult person is as inevitable as death and taxes. They are literally everywhere, in every culture, country and class. Knowing how to deal with difficult people is a skill that is not easily acquired nor mastered, but is an essential requirement to everyday living.

Shakespeare came up with a good way of dealing with difficult people in Taming of the Shrew; starvation and lack of sleep. If that fails, you can always fall back on Woody Allen's recommendation of total immersion in warm gravy. While these methods may work, they are not terribly practical. Below, you'll find some methods on how to deal with those people who insist on being difficult...

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Whenever someone becomes intolerably belligerent on the phone, put them on hold and let off steam with your co-workers or calm yourself by literally counting to ten. This invariably makes your co-workers laugh, which makes you laugh and realise that the person on the other end of the line has no bearing on your life and that you shouldn't be taking the situation all that seriously.

When you get back on the phone with them, you are calm and cool. Instead of shooting stupidities right back at them, use logic, tell them what they need to know, thank them for their call and hang up.


One of the best policies for dealing with people who are grating a bit on one's nerves is to be honest (you'll get caught if you try to lie) but don't reveal anything about yourself. If they don't know you, then they can't hurt the real you. Inside, you are laughing, while the outside is free to look upset or offended if it will get the job done.

Kill them with Kindness

Experience throws up two constants:

  1. Most of the things people say while in any kind of bad mood are not meant, are unmeditated, and are the verbal equivalent of a roaring animal.

  2. Responding like with like only ever aggravates a situation further and reaches no positive conclusion.

Any Jerry Springer will serve as proof of this.

So, the best response is to rise above all provocation and attempt to deal with difficult behaviour in a calm and understanding way. Here's one Researcher's experience:

Having spent over a decade in retail customer service, I've found the best way to deal with problem people is to kill them with kindness. I know it sounds hard to do, but it really works the best. When someone comes into a store in a bad mood, nine times out of ten it is something other than the store itself that has made them mad. They want to drag someone down with them. Smile real big and completely ignore anything offensive they've said. Example:
Angry customer - 'Do you work here?!? Can you help me?!?'
You (with nauseatingly big smile) - 'Why, certainly, sir! What can I help you with today?'
Nothing works better to burst their bubble. When they find their anger will get them nowhere, what else can they do? It works even better if you can get them what they want right away, because then they have to go into sheepish mode.

Dealing with difficult people in a calm and tolerant manner will most likely ease their tempers down somewhat. It also helps, if you're dealing with aggravated customers, if you know what you're talking about, or at least try to sound as if you know what you're talking about. If you can sound confident in what you are saying you are more likely to get your point through than if you sound uncertain. Most people that are already angry about something will be able to pick up on the uncertainty of the other party and use this uncertainty to strengthen their own argument.


Oh this one is really easy - how to deal with teenagers. I only really have experience of male ones, but my one lives in a completely different time warp from me, I never see him... and if I do ever see him standing up he only says 'Uuurrghh!' so what's the problem? While he's sleeping he's not eating, so that's around 16 hours per day sorted. The rest is OK too, he's got a computer, so that's another quiet pastime. I don't think he has the energy to be a problem (bless him!). Of course, things could change...

Not all of us are blessed with such easy-to-please teenagers, so what do you do if you do have a youngster who is hard to handle? If you tell them you will do something, make sure you do it. The point with any difficult child is to never make threats you won't keep, never attempt to patronise them, unless you are sure you will get away with it. It will only make matters worse.

Sibling Teenagers

A Researcher's experience:

I can't tell you how to handle these as an adult or a parent, but as the little brother, I tried the nice approach which failed much like the attempt of my scrotum to accommodate the same space and time as my sister's knee. Hitting back was no good either. There is no use seeking help with your parents because they are completely terrified of the teenage monster. Basically what I did was to try and keep a low profile until I got larger than her, by then she stopped recognising my existence altogether.
For some strange reason, today we get along just fine. Well, maybe you can chalk it up to me still getting bigger and her staying the same size...

Words of Wisdom

Whenever you have to deal with an unruly person, it's best to keep a level head about your shoulders, no matter how much they annoy you. If you get angry right away, there's no chance that the dispute, whether it be with your fiancé, sister, mother etc, will be resolved quickly or without upsetting everyone involved. If you can't see the problem from the difficult person's point of view, ask them. While this may not work with some, it's usually a good idea in the case of closer relationships. The trick is, in arguments, you need to have patience with the other person, and self-restraint with yourself. Then, not only will you both get a different point of view, but also more respect for each other.

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