First in Series: Successfully Handle Difficult People


Yesterday, I met with colleagues to facilitate a conversation about how we deal with difficult people. We could have talked for hours.

This blog begins a series addressing the different types of difficulty we may run into when dealing with people.

So what is a difficult person? The answer does not actually exist. Difficult is in the eye of the beholder. Those I find hard to deal with may be easy for someone else. And visa versa.

The definition of difficult (according to Google) is: “needing much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand.” The definition places the onus squarely on us. It is our ability to deal with or understand which defines someone else as difficult.

personalitiesThere are different types of difficult people. We will address the following:

  1. The Angry
  2. The Passive
  3. The Know-it-All
  4. The Agreeable
  5. The Narcissist
  6. The Saboteur

The personality traits listed above generally come out when people feel anxiety. Very early in our lives, we learn how to cope with fear, stress, and anxiety. In order to survive we need a warning system to let us know when we are facing danger.

In a healthy environment, children learn to respond to anxiety by appraising a situation. *Primary appraisal tells us how relevant and how dangerous a threat may be. Our secondary appraisal tells us whether or not we have the resources with which to cope with the threat. If we these resources; the anxiety decreases. If we do not, it increases.

When a child grows up in an environment that does not support a healthy development of appraisal or the tools a child needs to respond to anxiety, he or she will develop other, less healthy, ways of coping with anxiety.

And when this child grows into adulthood, without working on his or her psychological development, the adult can then become our difficult person.

Anxiety triggers our coping mechanisms. When we do not have healthy coping mechanisms, anxiety brings out people’s worst traits. Dealing with these traits in others requires “much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand.”

In the next series of blogs we will explore the best ways to handle difficult people depending on the traits they present.

* With special thanks to the Edward Piecznik, LCSW.

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