How to Handle Difficult People

How to Handle Difficult People


Have you ever experienced a ‘difficult’ client that you could not get along with? Do you know that this might say more about you than the other person?

No matter how well you get along with other people, I’m sure you’ve met people who you simply did not like. Maybe they were difficult to handle, did not accept what you said or were never satisfied.

It’s easy for us to dislike the other person if they’re difficult to handle. It’s easy to say “What an idiot, I’ll have to find a way to avoid working with him. He drives me crazy.” This is our instinctive reaction.

Unfortunately this instinctive reaction can jeopardise your success.

If we dislike someone, chances are the reason is one of the following three issues:

1. The other person reminds us of someone we met in the past and had problems with

The person reminds you of your school teacher, a cheating friend or an unreliable former business partner – And the more you’re dealing with them, the more evidence you find for this similarity?

In this case you have to remind yourself that the person you’re dealing with now is not that person from the past.

Instead, you have to give them a chance and beware of the selective perception trap: If you allow this poor opinion to hold sway, you will always notice every situation/behavior that can be used as evidence for your preconception.

It’s like being interested in buying a red car, and all of a sudden you see red cars all over the place. This is selective perception and it’s a dangerous trap, because it might avoid getting in touch with great people!

Remind yourself: The person standing in front of you is not the one from the past!

This trap is not too hard to identify and to get rid of. The next two topics are more severe and not so easy to identify.

2. We sense an attitude, skill or belief the other person has, which we would like to have ourselves as well

We can really go crazy about other people’s behavior and the more crazy we go, the more we reveal about ourselves.

One reason might be that you would like to have some of the other person’s qualities. You’d like to be just like them – but since you don’t know how to do it, you find reasons to reject them.

For example, let’s say that you’re not as focused as you’d like to be.

If you meet someone who is extremely focused and results driven, chances are they’re much more successful than you are. Your reaction might be “This person is terrible, they’re so focused, and they doesn’t recognise the little things and opportunities around them.”

If you dislike someone, ask yourself if the major reason for your negative emotions is caused by your own dreams of having some of their skills.

If you ask this for the first time, you might immediately say “No, of course not.”

Ask yourself again  – in many cases you will find at least some desirable attributes.

How to get out of this trap? Acquire these skills! If you don’t know how, maybe this person might be the best one to ask for advice or at least to mirror.

3. We sense an attitude, skill or belief the other person has, which we possess as well but do not like about ourselves

I’m sure you might have some beliefs or attitudes you’d like to get rid of. But you don’t know how.

Let’s say you tend to prefer harmony and avoid arguments whenever possible. Now imagine that your business partner is the personification of this belief as well. He never says no, he never challenges your ideas. You are a great team, living in harmony. But whenever an employee is moaning, they’re given a raise or any kind of incentive. It makes you go crazy, because your employees utilise this weakness.

You can find dozens of reasons why partner’s behavior is bad. But these reasons are not the real cause why you are getting angry at them.

These reasons are excuses to make it easier for you to keep on going with a behavior you don’t like about yourself. They are excuses to avoid changing yourself.

Because you prefer harmony as well, you don’t dare to talk to your partner about their own behavior. You blame them, and instead of talking to them, you get more and more angry. Directing anger at yourself towards someone else.

This is very common and it’s human. But it’s like having a strap around your chest holding you back from becoming successful, or like playing golf using only one hand because you never learnt how to use both.

As soon as you identify your limiting behavior or beliefs, you can start changing them:

  1. Get aware of what you do not like
  2. Find a solution for your ‘problematic’ behavior (do not try to change the other person)
  3. Find someone else who is good in what you want to become and do not stop learning from them until you have mastered it.

Getting along

There will of course always be a few people that you just can’t get along with. But don’t let that number be any bigger than it absolutely has to be. If you meet someone you don’t like, take a look inside before you fight with them. Make absolutely sure the ‘dislike’ doesn’t comes from within. The other person might just be a mirror for you. If this is the case, you need to work on what you don’t like about yourself or what you want to learn from the other one instead of fighting an impossible battle with someone who is not your enemy.

PS: Sometimes you are fine with someone, but the other person doesn’t like you. The reason can be one of the mentioned three. Just stay calm and friendly. If they ask for your advice, help them.

Axel Rittershaus
Axel Rittershaus is an internationally renowned C-Level / Executive Coach & Author who started as an entrepreneur in the IT industry in 1993. He knows that success is the result of hard work and determination even more than innate talent. A master of maintaining focus and follow-through, Axel supports C-Level leaders globally in achieving goals. Axel is dedicated and passionate to see clients succeed beyond their expectations. Axel is also the president of the International Coach Federation South Africa and a multiple Two Oceans and Comrades finisher. You can follow him on twitter.