11 Actionable Tips to Deal With Difficult People

All of us are bound to end up having to deal with difficult people at a certain point, whether in business or in our personal lives. The situation becomes more dire when we have to interact with these people every day, either because they are personal acquaintances we cannot avoid or co-workers and bosses we have to work with.

So how does one deal with difficult people in a way that truly makes a difference to the situation? Here, we ask 11 members of Young Entrepreneur Council to share their actionable methods for dealing with difficult people, and how those techniques can lead to a positive outcome.

Q: What advice would you give someone for dealing with difficult people in their life? What’s one actionable step they can take to positively handle the situation?

Their best answers are below.

1. Remember Three Key Things

There are three things to remember when dealing with difficult people. First, have compassion. Oftentimes, what makes “difficult people” seem difficult is poor communication skills. Second, stick to the point. When dealing with a poor communicator, the more you keep a conversation on task, the better the outcome. Third, don’t take it personally. Removing emotion is essential to clear communication. – Hajmil Carr, Trueline

2. Set Boundaries and Enforce Them

Boundaries are key. Make boundaries, enforce them, and take ownership of your interpretation of what “difficult” people do. Practice self-awareness and try to get to the root of what is difficult about this person and their actions. Then put enforceable boundaries in place that prevent reactions that negatively affect you. Know when it is a “them” problem, and when it is a “you” problem. – Matthew Capala, Alphametic

3. Exercise Patience and Restraint

Remember that their problem doesn’t have to be your problem. If someone’s giving you a hard time at work, do whatever you can to limit your interaction with the difficult person. If you can’t limit exposure, remember to take a few seconds before responding to their offensive or antagonizing comments or gestures. Exercising patience and restraint helps you keep the moral high ground. – Tyler Gallagher, Regal Assets

4. Talk It Through

Talk it through and try to see things from the perspective of the other person. Many disagreements stem from misunderstandings. It’s amazing how productive an open discussion can be. Don’t “brush it under the rug,” as this can create enmity between yourself and the other person. Try to listen twice as much as you talk. – Ibrahim Alkurd, New Mine

5. Focus on What You Can Control

In life, it’s better to focus on what’s controllable rather than other people’s emotions. You’ll be tested along the way by those people to lose your current state and mirror their personality. And it’s quite true, in fact. Our brain prefers certainty, so when challenged by a raging person, our brain, as a defense mechanism for emotional protection, mirrors the same emotion. So focus on controlling your reaction. – Kelly Richardson, Infobrandz

6. Pinpoint the Reason for Their Behavior

The thing you need to know about difficult people is you probably won’t resolve the problem in a day. When someone has this mentality, there’s usually a reason for their behavior. Working through this process can take some time, but the resolution at the end is well worth the time you’ll invest. – John Brackett, Smash Balloon LLC

7. Focus on Common Ground

Focus on common ground. You may have to work a bit to find it, but it’s almost always there. Once you’ve done that, try to focus on that when they become difficult. It’s a great way to steer the conversation in a better direction. – Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

8. Be Compassionate

Ever heard the joke that those who know psychology very well can’t get mad at people because they understand where everybody is coming from? That’s the approach I recommend you take when dealing with someone difficult. No one is “difficult” by choice. Something might have happened to them in the past that made them act defensive, aggressive, suspicious, or whatever it is they seem. Compassion! – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

9. Be Rational Even If They Aren’t

Sometimes you just have to make the best of a challenging situation with difficult people. At some point, you have to accept that they probably aren’t going to change and just do your best to not let them upset you or interfere with you. Try to be rational, even if they aren’t. If you can predict what someone is likely to do, you don’t have to let it knock you off balance. – Kalin Kassabov, ProTexting

10. Do Not Respond Emotionally

Do not respond emotionally. It’s okay to disagree with people heck, you don’t even need to like them but you have to keep your focus on the mission. Do not get sucked into people’s issues emotionally; it’s better to take a step back and collect yourself. Always use your mind to make the right decision, use your emotions for fun or use energy to move things forward. Negative emotions are a waste. – Andy Karuza, LitPic

11. Use the Sandwich Method of Criticism

I like to use the sandwich method of criticism. Start with something positive. Then mention your constructive critique. Then end with something positive. Other things you can do include setting clear boundaries and rules of engagement, killing people with kindness, and continuing to grow in your understanding of what you can realistically handle. Handle what you can, and hand off what you can’t. – Amine Rahal, IronMonk Solutions

These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC,) an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year, and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

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