Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size
A
A
A

Dealing with Difficult People: 17 Tips to Keep You Sane

Turn the Spotlight on You continued...

If it’s a good friend or intimate, think, too, about your own behavior in the relationship. Have you contributed to the strain by saying yes instead of no too many times? Did you neglect to signal early on that something was bothering you? “If you don’t look at your own actions, you end up making the other person 100 percent of the problem,” explains Susan Fee, author of Dealing with Difficult People: 83 Ways to Stay Calm, Composed, and in Control. That also puts the solution squarely in her hands — and out of yours.

Delving into the root cause of your frustration can turn up problem-solving insights. Fee provides an example from her own life: “When I first got married, my mother-in-law drove me crazy. She was always hovering and intrusive. But after asking myself again and again why she bothered me so much, I realized what was going on: Her behavior was foreign to me because I never knew what it was like to be mothered — when I was 12, my mom had a debilitating stroke. It became clear that this was just my mother-in-law’s way of showing her love for me. Once I understood that, our relationship improved.”

Switch Perspectives

“Most of the time, difficult people just want something different than we do,” says Ronna Lichtenberg, author of Work Would Be Great If It Weren’t for the People. “Or they handle things differently.”

It’s no surprise, then, that you may be your difficult person’s difficult person. It could be a matter of opposite outlooks: Super-friendly people, for instance, may be at odds with all-business-all-the-time types — and vice versa. The same goes for laid-back folks and workaholics. Understanding those basic differences gives you a glimpse of someone else’s viewpoint, which may help temper your irritation.

If you’re having trouble feeling empathetic toward someone you care about, try analyzing her behavior. This strategy worked for Alicyn Mindel, a mom of two from Providence who struggled for years with her friend “Dina,” who was a terrible listener. “Whenever I started talking about my personal problems, she would turn the conversation around to herself. Then, one day, a different pal was talking about attention-starved people, and I realized Dina fit the description perfectly. From that moment on, every time Dina and I got together, I gave her a big, long hug. The transformation was amazing: She became warmer, more open, and over time, she started asking me about my life — without segueing into her own issues.”

Choose Your Approach

Armed with your insights, you now need to decide whether to confront the perpetrator. As a general rule, you should talk things over only with someone you’re close to, whether that’s your husband or a longtime colleague. It’s probably not worth stirring the pot if you only see him once a month, like an in-law or acquaintance on the PTA board. (For people you don’t know at all — say, the salesclerk who’s more interested in her cell phone chat than in helping you — you’ll need a different strategy.)

You can also skip the conversation if you know it will fall on deaf ears, or if you suspect it will be taken the wrong way. That was the case with Mindel: “I never addressed the issue with Dina because she tends to be defensive. I knew I’d have a better chance of fixing our friendship by changing my actions.” A good litmus test for determining whether or not to start a conversation is first to imagine the worst-case scenario. Then ask yourself, Will our relationship survive? If you’re confident it will, set up a time to talk. If it won’t, try a tactic that’s less confrontational.

Today on WebMD

woman looking in mirror
Article
Woman resting on fitness ball
Evaluator
 
woman collapsed over laundry
Quiz
Public restroom door sign
Slideshow
 
Couple with troubles
Article
cat on couch
Evaluator
 
Young woman being vaccinated
Slideshow
woman holding hand to ear
Slideshow
 
Blood pressure check
Slideshow
mother and daughter talking
Evaluator
 
intimate couple
Article
puppy eating
Slideshow