Work With A Difficult Person? Break The Pattern

You can better deal with difficult person by managing your perceptions, determining changes you can make and sometimes walking away.


Running into a difficult person is almost inevitable. But you can take steps to more effectively deal with him or her, including taking changing your perspective, discovering if there are ways you can assist that person or – and perhaps the hardest – distancing yourself from him or her.

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of a 3 part series on maintaining composure and managing encounters with difficult people. Part 1 and Part 2 

What makes a difficult person difficult? It’s important to understand that your answer may be specific to you. We all have different tolerances for behavior in others. What may bother one person may not bother another. In fact, what may bother us today may not bother us tomorrow. People and our interactions are complex.

A few years back I worked with a person who many others defined as “difficult.” As evidence of this, over the course of the first few years I knew her, she was fired – not laid off or downsized – without cause from four different jobs. I knew her because she had worked for me for a short time.

From my perspective I found her to be a hard worker who was generally reliable and produced quality work. However, I recognized that she was loud, too quick to speak her opinion before measuring her words, overreacted and, at times, simply melted down under pressure. Yet she was also intelligent, concerned for the welfare of others and offered to help in any capacity she was able. What others saw that defined her as difficult was real, but that was only part of her story.

Managing Your Perceptions

In a one-time encounter with a difficult person, it can be easier to suspend your negative perceptions, maintain composure and manage the moment. Over time, however, when you experience a recurring pattern of difficulties, your resilience can wane. When this happens, it can become more difficult to maintain composure, and you need to consider actions that work beyond a single encounter.