Life would be easy… if it weren’t for difficult people

This headline was in my inbox today and I clicked eagerly to read it. I am dealing with a very difficult situation right now which is causing me huge stress and quite literally making me ill, so I read this hoping for some tips on how to deal with certain difficult people in my life.

The first thing author, Connie Podesta writes is

We all know that life would be a whole lot easier if we didn’t have to deal with those few (or many) difficult people we just can’t seem to avoid.

Well that’s true!

“What’s not okay” she continues ” is to give up something you need, want or deserve because of their behavior.  So if you’re tired of playing their game, take charge of your life by taking a good look at yourself! You can not change them, but you can change what you do and how you act around them – and ultimately how they affect your life.”

If this sounds like a message you need to hear today for the difficult people in your life…then read on:

The Good News… and the Bad News

Difficult people have been trained and taught to act the way they do since they were children. In fact, they have been rewarded for their negative behavior throughout their entire lives. Difficult behavior worked for them as children – and more important, it continues to work for them as adults.

I believe that most of us are born with the capacity and desire to love and be loved. As we grow, we learn to respond to verbal and visual cues and we begin to adjust our behavior to obtain the positive responses we want. Children who can manipulate their parents soon learn to enjoy feelings of power and control over others.

The game of life is basically about “getting our needs met.” And you certainly do play a part! We reward difficult people by giving in to their needs. Think about it. If someone’s behavior is consistently inappropriate or unacceptable toward you, ask yourself if in any way you are rewarding their negative behavior.

We have three choices each time we respond to another person

1. Be positive

2. Be negative

3. Avoid or ignore them.

Difficult people see avoidance as a positive response. When we ignore unacceptable, inappropriate behavior, it will usually happen again because our avoidance tells the difficult person that we are willing to accept their behavior.

What do they really want?

Difficult people want to do their own thing, in their own time, in their own way, without interference. In addition, they expect everyone around them to cooperate – even work extra hard – to ensure that this happens. And they do not see anything unreasonable about these expectations. There is little in their experience to signal them that their actions are inappropriate. They also have little (if any) desire or motivation to change their habits.

What can I do about it?

We learn a lot from difficult people. We tolerate their behavior and attitudes as “part of life.” We hold back our feelings and swallow our words. We make concessions even when we do not receive anything in return. We compromise even when it is 90/10 instead of 50/50. We may even question our own ability to relate and communicate with others reasoning that “Maybe it’s me.”

Since we cannot change difficult people, we can only change our selves and our reactions to their behavior. They need our cooperation and our permission to intimidate, control and repeatedly manipulate us to get their way. In most relationships, we are treated exactly the way we allow ourselves to be treated.

The good news is that because we are partly responsible there is something we can do to create and maintain relationships where we are treated respectfully. That’s great news! By focusing on our selves and the changes we can make in our own behaviors and reactions, we can begin to take control of how other people treat us.

So over to you now. How do you handle the difficult people in your life? I would love to hear your advice and I am sure many other readers would too.

Connie Podesta is the author of Self-Esteen and the Six Second Secret


What a great response to this post and it seems that many of you are concerned particularly with the issue of workplace bullying. Catherine Connors has a great post on this subject at Bloggertone. Click here to read.