Dorothy Rosby
Contributing columnist
No matter what you’ve heard, I’m not a difficult person. But every few months I get a brochure in the mail advertising a seminar for us poor souls who deal with difficult people. It’s called, cleverly, “Dealing with Difficult People.”
The seminar promises to teach attendees to say the right thing at the right time when confronted by a difficult person. Without even attending the seminar, I can tell you, the right thing to say is almost never, “Will you SHUT UP!”
It guarantees attendees will learn to bring out the best in difficult people—assuming there is any to bring out. And it promises to help participants understand why difficult people act the way they act. As I’m sure you know, when we understand other people we’re better able to deal with them in a constructive manner, rather than choking them, which is not legal in most states.
Even though I haven’t attended the workshop and don’t intend to, I still consider myself somewhat of an expert on dealing with difficult people because I do it so often. Let’s discuss some of the main types of difficult people as I see them:
Know-it-Alls have an opinion on every issue and whenever there’s a disagreement, they’re always right. And really, how can that be? That would make me wrong.
Tell a One-Upper your car gets 28 miles per gallon and theirs gets 34. Tell them you had your appendix removed. So did they, and they nearly died! Tell them you lost ten pounds; they lost twenty. Big deal. They probably had more to lose.
I have no time for Two-Faced Backstabbing Gossipers—unless they have a good story to tell.
And Gripers whine, complain, and carry on. Remember though, there is a difference between whining and a legitimate expression of concern. Here’s how you can tell the difference. It’s whining when they do it; it’s a legitimate expression of concern when you and I do.
Dictators are intimidating and critical. I’ve found you can disarm a dictator in the middle of his rant by saying something helpful, like “Excuse me. You have something in your teeth.”
Bad News Carriers tell labor and delivery horror stories to expectant mothers and talk about medical mishaps before you go in for surgery.
Now let’s look at some of the most effective methods of dealing with difficult people. (And don’t try these on me, because I’ll know.)
1. Understand that one reason the difficult person may be difficult is that they feel vulnerable. Know-it-Alls and Dictators especially may be trying to hide their feelings of inadequacy under a rough exterior. Try to sound sympathetic: “I understand you’re being difficult because you’re feeling inadequate right now. I’d feel that way if I were you, too.”
2. Don’t keep pushing a Griper. Try pulling . . . her hair out. I’m kidding! By pulling I mean reassuring, compromising, finding common ground. If that doesn’t work, pull her hair out.
3. If the difficult person is only difficult when he’s under stress, let him relax. If you’ve got a big project for him to do, give it to him when he’s feeling better. Maybe meet him at the door with it when he gets back from vacation.
4. It may be best to ignore One-Uppers, Gossipers, and Bad News Carriers. Try covering your ears and humming loudly.
5. The best way to deal with difficult people may be to kill them with kindness. Or just kill them. I’m joking!
If all of these tips fail, it may be time to look in the mirror. I know it isn’t easy, but we may need to ask ourselves, “If it appears that everyone around me is being difficult, is it possible that I’m the one who’s being difficult?”
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact