7 Steps for Dealing With Difficult People

February 22nd, 2018

Life is a web of relationships. Human beings are social creatures, deeply entangled in countless relationships throughout life. It’s natural to gravitate toward those relationships that bring you the most happiness, growth, and fulfillment. However, despite your best efforts and intentions to the contrary, you’re sometimes forced to deal with challenging relationships and difficult people. Navigating these interactions can often result in stress, tension, and anxiety that negatively impact your mood and expose you to unpleasant emotional toxicity.

When dealing with difficult people it’s important to remember that everyone you encounter is doing the best they can from their own level of consciousness. Therefore, try to avoid judging their behavior. No matter how it may appear from your perspective, few, if any of the difficult people in your life are deliberately trying to be the bad guy or villain. They are simply making the choices that seem best from where they find themselves in the current moment, regardless of the amount of mayhem it might bring into the experience of others.

Part of the curriculum at the Chopra Center’s Perfect Health Ayurvedic Lifestyle program includes exploring the tools for conscious communication, which can help you learn to communicate directly with the people in your life for maximum emotional and spiritual well-being. This includes asking yourself the following four questions derived from Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication:

  1. What just happened? (Distinguishing observations from evaluations for awareness and clarity)
  2. What are the feelings arising in me? (Taking responsibility for emotions and beliefs without slipping into victimization)
  3. What do I need that I’m not receiving? (Identifying your own needs rather than assuming others automatically know what you require)
  4. What am I asking for? (Specifically formulating a request for what you need and surrendering the outcome)

These are powerful and transformative questions that can lead to a more productive and conscious exchange with the people in your life. However, what if a person is unwilling to help you meet your needs and falls squarely into the category of being a difficult person? How can you maintain your presence and respond from the level of highest awareness?

The following seven steps can be used to help you navigate the rough waters of dealing with a negative person. They can be used independently or in sequence, depending on what the situation requires. Interactions with difficult people are dynamic and there is no one quick fix for every situation. Also, note that these suggestions focus primarily around changing your perceptions of the relationship rather than trying to change the behavior of the other person.

1. Use the S.T.O.P. Model to Avoid Reactivity

This acronym can be the most fundamental step in coping with a difficult personal relationship. S.T.O.P. stands for:

  • Stop whatever you’re doing
  • Take 3 deep breaths
  • Observe how your body feels
  • Proceed with kindness and compassion

No matter how challenging the difficult person or relationship is, this pause will help to derail the emotional reactions that are primed to take over in the heat of the moment.

2. See Through the Control Drama the Other Person Is Using

Control dramas are manipulative behaviors that people often fall into when their needs aren’t being met. There are four primary control dramas:

  • Being nice and manipulative
  • Being nasty and manipulative
  • Being aloof and withdrawn
  • Playing the victim or “poor-me” role

Control dramas are frequently learned in childhood as a strategy to manipulate others into giving you what you want. Interestingly, many people never outgrow their primary control drama or evolve to higher forms of communication.

When you witness one of these control dramas playing out in a difficult person, you can automatically become more understanding. Imagine the person you’re dealing with using the same control drama as a child. From that perspective you realize that this individual never learned another way to get their needs met and, as such, is deserving of your compassion. This simple and profound shift in perspective can take the entire relationship dynamic in a new direction.

3. Don’t Take it Personally

When you’re involved with a difficult person, it can feel like their words are a deliberate personal attack. This is not the case. Their reaction and behavioris not about you; it’s about them. Everyone is experiencing reality through personalized filters and perceptions of the world and your behavior is a direct result of those interpretations. A difficult person’s point of view is something that’s personal to them. In their reality, they are the director, producer, and leading actor of their own movie. You, on the receiving end, play only a small part in their drama.

In a similar manner they are possibly only bit players in your drama, so you can choose not to give the bit players of your life control over your happiness. If you take the situation personally, you end up becoming offended and react by defending your beliefs and causing additional conflict. In refusing to take things personally you defuse the ego and help to de-escalate a potential conflict.

4. Practice Defenselessness

This can be a powerful strategy when confronted with a difficult person. Being defenseless doesn’t mean you’re passive—you still maintain your personal opinion and perspective in the situation—but rather than engaging with the intention of making the other person wrong, you consciously choose not to be an adversary.

Being defenseless means you give up the need to be the smartest person in the room. You ask your ego and intellect to sit this one out and proceed with an open acceptance of the other person’s position. You don’t have to agree with their perspective (or even like it). The point of this process is to compassionately suspend your need to defend a particular point of view. An interaction with a difficult person doesn’t have to turn into a heated debate. Oftentimes, the other person simply needs to be heard. By allowing them to express themselves without resistance, they can fulfill that need and perhaps become more amicable. Establishing defenselessness creates space that allows for a more a compassionate and peaceful interaction.

5. Walk Away if Necessary

Difficult people can often draw you into a field of negativity. If you feel like you can’t maintain your awareness and objectivity, there’s nothing wrong with removing yourself from the situation. A toxic exchange can leave you feeling physically depleted and emotionally exhausted; if the above options aren’t helping you deal with the difficult person, walk away. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone; there’s no need to martyr yourself on the relationship battleground. You may have the best intentions for the exchange, but sometimes the most evolutionary option is to consciously withdraw from the interaction. This isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about stepping away from a toxic environment that’s dampening your spirit. Detach from the situation and trust the universe to work out the resolution.

6. See the Experience as an Evolutionary Opportunity

As challenging as it is, dealing with a difficult person can be a learning experience. Relationships mirror your inner world back to you and help open your eyes to those things you may not want to see. The qualities in another that upset you are often those aspects of yourself that you repress.

Recognize the petty tyrant in your life as a teacher who can help you learn what you haven’t yet mastered. Better yet, see in this person a friend who, as a part of the collective consciousness of humanity, is another part of you. As Ram Dass reminds says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” When you can see a difficult person as an ally on the journey you’re traveling together, you’ll be ready to answer the telling question, “What am I meant to learn in this situation?”

7. Resonate Compassion

Compassion is an attribute of the strong, highly evolved soul who sees opportunities for healing, peace, and love in every situation. Even when faced with a difficult person, compassion allows you to see someone who is suffering and looking for relief. Compassion reminds you that this person has been happy and sad, just like you have been; has experienced health and sickness, as have you; has friends and loved ones who care for them, like you; and will one day, grow old and die, just as you will. This understanding helps to open your heart to embrace a difficult person from the level of the soul. If you can think, speak, and act from this perspective, you will resonate the compassion that lives at the deepest level of your being and help you to transform your relationships.

Difficult people can challenge your commitment to spirit, but by practicing these steps you can respond reflectively, rather than reactively, and hopefully take your relationships to a more conscious level of expression.

Remember once again that no matter how it might appear, difficult people are doing the best they are able. Knowing this, you can smile at the wisdom of Maya Angelou’s words when she said, “We do the best we can with what we know, and when we know better, we do better.”


About the Author

Adam Brady

Vedic Educator
Yoga teacher, author, and martial artist Adam Brady has been associated with the Chopra Center for nearly 20 years. He is a certified Vedic Educator trained in Primordial Sound Meditation Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga and Perfect Health: Ayurvedic Lifestyle and regularly teaches in the Orlando, Florida, area. Over the last several years, Adam has worked to introduce corporate mind-body wellness programs into the workplace within a large…Read more
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Keeping Your Cool: Dealing with Difficult People

February 1st, 2018

By: Dr. Rhonda Savage

People today have a short fuse—everyone is stressed.  And when people are stressed, they can become difficult to be around. Chances are, you’ve worked with at least one difficult person in your organization.  You recognize the behaviors of a difficult person, such as a bad attitude, apathy, difficulty handling change, and terrible customer service. Difficult people give you the silent treatment or worse–they can be verbally aggressive.Unfortunately, if you don’t address this kind of behavior, one of two things will happen:  Employees will become resentful and think less of you as a leader.

Employees will start modeling the behavior of the person who is not being corrected.

It’s important to understand that there’s only one reason anyone behaves in an unacceptable manner: the person gets away with it! So, who’s responsible for difficult people? The answer is anyone who tolerates them. Every time you give in to a difficult person, every time you choose not to confront him or her, you allow a difficult person to continue this rude behavior.

What does a difficult person in your office look like?  Often, he is the one who gets the better schedule. He may come in late or leave the office early, leaving his or her work for others to finish. The individual might take a longer lunch, hold long personal calls during work hours, or refuse to lend a co-worker a hand. Individuals in the office don’t ask the person to work with them because they don’t like the individual.

So, how can you change this situation? Confrontation is one answer. Unfortunately, it can be hard for anyone to address this issue. However, it’s important to understand that dealing with the issue will facilitate a more harmonious atmosphere in the office, leading to increased productivity, improved morale, and a healthier bottom line.

You’ll need to set boundaries, expectations and guidelines, and then hold the person accountable for his or her behaviors. Here are some tips, whether you are an employee dealing with a difficult supervisor, a worker dealing with a co-worker, or a manager dealing with a challenging employee:

Owner or Manager to Employee: Have you ever had an employee who was demanding, condescending, abrupt, tearful, insecure, and high maintenance—yet he or she did an excellent job? Were you worried about losing the person because of the great work? Just because someone does great work doesn’t make him or her a good employee. If you have a person whose behavior is affecting the morale and productivity in the office, and you’ve already coached the employee on the issue, this person needs a formal corrective review.

The employee should be given a copy of the corrective review; a signed copy is placed in his or her employee file. Let the employee know the specific behavior you need to have changed, your clearly defined expectations, and a time frame to work within. Have a follow-up meeting within a designated time period to give the employee the feedback needed. Be sure to provide clear oversight.

Employee to Manager:  What if the difficult person is your boss or manager? Approach your employer or supervisor first by asking: “I need to talk with you about something.  Is now a good time?” If not, schedule a time to talk. Begin by expressing your intention and your motives. Explain your concern about a loss of business and unhappy clients, and that your intentions are to help make the workplace not only productive but also satisfactory to clients.

Another approach is to talk about how certain behaviors in the office are decreasing efficiency. Explain that you’d like to talk about ways to improve the systems in the office. By first addressing the issues as though you’re tackling a problem or a system issue, your supervisor or employer will not be defensive. Always be tactful, professional, calm, and polite. Ask your employer or manager for his or her goals and offer to give suggestions to help meet those goals.

Use the “feel, felt, found” method: “Many of our customers feel uncomfortable when you speak to the other employees; they’ve expressed how they’ve felt when you left the room. I’ve found if I convey customer concerns to my supervisor that our sales have increased.”

Employee to Employee:  If you have a problem with a co-worker, the best course of action is to go to that person directly. Do not talk about the issues with your fellow co-workers behind the other person’s back! Go to the person privately and tell them about it.

There are three steps to this.

Let the person know you’d like to talk about something that’s been bothering you. Ask him or her, “Is this a good time?”

Describe the behavior with dates, names, and times. Be specific. Begin by saying:  “I’d like to talk with you about this. This is how I felt when….” Speak only for yourself and how the behavior affects you.

Describe what you would like to see changed. Try to resolve the issue first personally and privately. If the situation does not change, request a meeting between yourself, the other person and your employer.  Everyone can choose his or her attitude. Each day, when someone walks out the front door to go to work, that person has a choice in how his or her day will play out.  You can’t always choose the people who surround you but you can try to make them aware of their behaviors.  If you have a difficult person in your life, set the boundaries, explain your expectations, and then hold that person accountable.  Be calm when you’re doing this!  The person who is calm and asks the questions is the one in control.

About the Author,

Dr. Rhonda Savage is an internationally acclaimed speaker and CEO for a well-known practice management and consulting business. As past President of the Washington State Dental Association, she is active in organized dentistry and has been in private practice for more than 16 years. Dr. Savage is a noted speaker on practice management, women’s issues, communication and leadership, and zoo dentistry. For more information on her speaking, visit www.DentalManagementU.com, or e-mail rhonda@dentalmanagementu.com.
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How to Deal with the Know-It-All in Your Office

January 19th, 2018


When I was in seventh grade, a new girl joined my class. Let’s call her Selena. She came from a big city, and she knew it all — what to wear, the words to songs, how to talk to teachers. She’d even spoken French in Paris. Some classmates were admiring, while others were annoyed. But I felt I needed to compete with her. I boned up on odd song lyrics and nagged my mother for what I thought were sophisticated big-city clothes. It took me some months before I realized you can’t compete with know-it-alls. As I caught up, Selena just upped the competition. And then, after she’d been in our class for awhile, she got comfortable and eased up on her attitude, leaving me to look like the know-it-all of the class.

Although no one has left quite as big an impression on me as Selena, I have met many know-it-alls in my years in human resources. Many of them, like Selena, are new to their circumstances. Some are acquired in a merger; others are hired to bring new skills or experience to their work group. Their first impulse is to say, “When I was at Big Company, we did it this way,” not realizing that their new colleagues couldn’t care less about how they did it at Big Company.

These know-it-alls are unsure of their status in the group and are trying to establish their position. One such HR newbie told me she knew everything about outplacement, and I didn’t, because she had laid off far more people than I had. This time I didn’t rise to the challenge. Instead, I tried to make her feel comfortable in her new position, and as that started to work, she relaxed her know-it-all behavior. If your know-it-all is new to the organization, you might try that approach first.

Know-it-alls don’t have to be newbies, though. Some become know-it-alls because of their success. These people are harder to deal with, particularly if they are your superiors. They believe that because of their accolades they really do know it all. And because of their success, they are entitled to tell others how to do things, down to the smallest detail. Here’s how to work with a know-it-all, no matter where they are in the company hierarchy.

If you manage or mentor a know-it-all. You have an obligation to give them feedback. Let them know that their attitude is having a negative effect on their career. Be sure to keep your feedback specific to something you have observed, to keep it credible.

If the know-it-all isn’t a direct report, but a colleague. It’s up to you to decide whether to say something. Consider your relationship: If you are friendly and comfortable with each other, it may make sense to have the conversation. Start by asking permission: “Can I talk to you about something?” That helps get the conversation started in the right vein. Then talk about your direct observations, putting an emphasis on your colleague’s expertise and the consequences of flaunting it: “We all know you are an expert in this area, but when you gave the answer right away, Nancy and Jorge immediately went quiet, so they didn’t get a chance to think things through or give their own answers. Did you notice that?”

It’s not a good idea to try this with a colleague you don’t know well or don’t have a good relationship with. It could easily be seen as acting like a know-it-all yourself. Wait until you have established a relationship of trust, or try some of the techniques for working with a know-it-all boss below.

If the know-it-all isn’t a direct report or a colleague, but your boss. Tread carefully. Here are a few broad rules to keep in mind if you find yourself in this worst-case scenario:

Rule #1: If the issue doesn’t matter, just leave it alone. Letting know-it-alls go on and on may be frustrating and annoying, but save your strength for when you need it.

Rule #2: If the know-it-all is wrong, and it’s important to persuade them to consider another opinion, you have to figure out how to drive a small wedge between them and their beliefs. Try these techniques:

  • Ask “Have you ever…?” This question prompts the know-it-all to bring up a successful experience on the other side of the issue. For example: “Have you ever decided to assess one of your traditional vendors? What did you do?” Asking “what if” can also get know-it-alls to see things differently: “What if we put this contract out to bid? Do you think we might get a better deal, even from our current provider?”
  • Delay for data. You might say, “That sounds like a good decision, but let me confirm that. Let’s meet next week, and in the meantime I’ll collect some data on how our people view their service quality.”
  • Look for the risk. Here, you might say, “There are some real risks. We want to be sure our products don’t have a major defect in them caused by this vendor. We might be liable. How about I check with our attorneys and risk management?”

Rule #3: If you are successful at convincing a know-it-all boss, make sure you give them credit. For example, “Ha-yoon wanted me to check with the attorneys about the risks of this contract, and we decided…” Don’t eliminate your role in the situation, but be sure to attribute some part of the decision to the know-it-all as well.

And remember — whether the know-it-all is your direct report, colleague, or boss, never, never compete. Competing won’t change a know-it-all’s behavior. You’ll just end up looking like a know-it-all yourself.

Priscilla Claman is president of Career Strategies, Inc., a Boston-based firm offering career coaching to individuals and career management services to organizations. She is also a contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job.


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