3 Ways to Deal with Difficult People

Anyone that has ever worked with a group of people or has held a leadership position, will have had experienced a difficult person at one point or another. Difficult people come in all shapes and sizes; it can be a coworker, a manager or boss, client, or a patient (if you’re in the dental or healthcare industry). In a perfect world, everyone we interact and work with would always be positive, jolly, and a motivated team player. But let’s face it, in the REAL world, we are presented with people who push our buttons, undermine our values, and exhibit behaviors that are non-conducive to team morale.

Difficult people are a part of life; there is no way dodging THAT encounter – trust me, I tried. And, when we interpret another person’s behavior as difficult or challenging, we give rise to conflict, which occurs due to individual differences or disagreements. How conflict is handled depends on the person and there is no “best” way to deal with it. What you CAN do however, is learn about the different ways to deal with difficult people and know what approach works best based on the situation.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned, it is that my effectiveness in dealing with conflict is dependent on how I react to it. Below, I’ve outlined 3 conflict resolutions that I’ve used over and over to help me cope with difficult people in all areas of my life (professional and personal included). 


Don’t take it personally. 

I abide by this rule daily and always tell my girls to never “take things personally, because it’s NOT YOU (and in most cases it’s the other person projecting their bad day onto you)”. Working in a dental industry, we often come across difficult and sometimes emotionally challenging patients so this is where the mantra comes in very handy. It is the ego’s prerogative to be the center of attention and feel special, using whatever means possible and why it’s so easy for us humans to get caught up in all types of drama thus making everything about US (insert eye roll). In reality, it’s NOT (about us – AT ALL) and the other person is just having a bad day. So, DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY and let it go.

Start a difficult conversation with flattery. 

Anytime I need to have what feels like a difficult conversation, I always start with telling that person how much I value them and the relationship we have developed; one that allows us to be ourselves and honest with each other whenever unpleasant things come up. And I always mean what I say. I understand that we have our bad days and I always separate the behavior from the person. I then like to follow with getting their agreement that they too feel the same which opens the door for that conversation. I create a sense that we’re on “the same team” and I’m not out to get them. 

Call out the behavior, NOT the person. 

As I’ve mentioned above, I practice separating the behavior from the person. Rather, I address the behavior in question and provide them with clear examples of what they did and why it went against the practice’s values. I actually don’t like using  the word “wrong” when attempting to manage and ultimately resolve conflict. It has a negative connotation and implies that the person is “bad”.  Instead, I ask questions to get a better understanding of the thought process involved because it allows me to put myself in their shoes and think of solutions that target the behavioral issue at hand resulting in this behavior eventually becoming extinct. 

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