We all have difficult people in our life who drives us nuts! They are annoying, frustrating, and exhausting—but I have some ways to help you deal with them.

Here are some ideas for how you can handle the difficult person in your life:

1. Identify the 4 Types

There are 4 different types of difficult people. Think about the person in your life and figure out which category they are in:

  • Downers are also known as Negative Nancys or Debbie Downers. They always have something bad to say. They complain, critique and judge. They are almost impossible to please.
  • Better Thans also are known as Know It Alls, One Uppers or Show-Offs. They like to try impressing you, name-dropping and comparing.
  • Passives also are known as Push-Overs, Yes Men and Weaklings. They don’t contribute much to conversations or people around them and let others do the hard work.
  • Tanks also are known as being explosive, a handful, or bossy. They want their way and will do anything to get it.

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2. Don’t Try Changing Them

When we meet a difficult person, or if we have one in our family or circle of friends, our instinct is to try changing them. We try to encourage Downers to be more positive, Passives to stand up for themselves, Tanks to calm down, and Better Thans to be more humble. This never works! In fact, when you try to change someone they tend to resent you, dig in their heels, and get worse.

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3. Try Understanding Them

The way to disengage a difficult person is to try understanding where they are coming from. I try to find their value language. A value language is what someone values most. It is what drives their decisions. For some people it is money; for others, it is power or knowledge. This not only helps me understand them, but also helps them relax and become more open-minded. For example, sometimes Tanks just want to explain their opinion. If you let them talk to you, that might help them not blow up or try dominating a situation.

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4. Don’t Let Them Be Toxic

Some difficult people can be toxic. Toxic people can be passive-aggressive, mean, or hurtful. So, if you have to deal with them, you can understand where they are coming from, and then keep your distance. Toxic relationships are harmful. So, you need to create a buffer zone by surrounding yourself with good friends, seeing them less, and, if you have to be with them, doing it for the minimum amount of time.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

27 replies on “4 Types of Difficult People and How to Deal With Them”

  1. Gracie

    Thank you for an informative breakdown of people we need to be careful around, try and avoid whenever possible, or if we have to spend time around them, ways to get along and function without losing our minds!!
    I have a cousin on my dad’s side who is a combination of Downer and the Tank.. she is likely bipolar and if she would go and be diagnosed, I’m sure that they would discover that. Very quickly.
    She runs her mouth loudly Non-Stop, throws tantrums that include breaking stuff when things don’t go her way, lies about everyone she knows, always seeks sympathy very early in any conversation you have with her, and 99.9% of her trouble is self-inflicted, due to her ridiculously poor choices in life. She also loves to blackmail you when she is mad at you with things you have been naive enough to tell her in confidence, threatening to post them on Facebook or tell other friends and family members. Honestly she is one of the most dreadful people I have ever met in my life, and then she will start to complain about all of her friends and family and to hear her tell it, nobody does her right and everybody treats her bad and nobody wants to come around her. This woman never looks in the mirror and does self analysis that perhaps she is the reason that everyone either runs off or does her wrong in some way or another. She is one of those people who is never to blame and she loves to shift the blame to other people and she loves to lie and believe the lies herself. She’s also one of these people who will sweet talk you until she gets what she wants and then she either picks a fight with you or you don’t hear much from her after she gets what she wants out of you, especially if she is borrowed any money.she will kiss up to be able to borrow money and then pick a fight with you and block you. She also loves to stir up drama within family members….. I believe she would definitely fit the category of “toxic”. I believe the litmus test of
    a possibly toxic person is when they are all alone yet they have an extensive family and very many acquaintances but hardly any friends unless the person barely knows them. If they seem to constantly be at conflict with many people in their lives at a time and if their friend list has a very high turnover, it is likely that this person is someone you want to keep at arm’s length. She definitely fits the description of all of the above. For whatever reason, there seems to be every so often in our Walk of Life, a person who is just next to impossible to be around.
    Thank you for letting me vent and for sharing your thoughts on difficult people.

  2. Anita

    I have an identical Twim. She is totally different person. She’s mean, selfish, creedy, liar and a thief. I’ve know her long enough to say these are true. But, I think I have a bigger problem. I can not be mean. I open my mouth and I can’t say the words. I.m generous and caring with her. She is always hurting me. How did one egg split, identical DNA and be so different?

    1. Colin Walmsley

      Hi Anita,
      Accept your sister and love her. Try establishing boundaries and focus on your well being, not hers. Expect her to act badly and prepare yourself by self talk. That is telling yourself not to let anything she does worry you. Also don’t worry about what other people may think of you or your sister. There will always be critics. Focus on good people who will provide you with support. Good luck.
      Colin (62)
      Australia

    2. Omar Scott (please don’t share this on any social media platforms)

      Dear Anita,

      You shouldn’t try to change your sister but really just give her as much space as possible, just because she’s bitter doesn’t mean you should think less of her, what are you doing if you think less of her, she’ll become even worse because if you’re with great friends and seeing her as a merely not-needed person in your life at all, you’re not really helping yourself at all.

  3. Steven

    Potential problem with this article which I hope/imagine is addressed in the book, is that if someone themselves has a critical spirit towards you, it’s easy for them to see you as a Downer. If someone is a tank they may see a normal person as a Pushover. To me the question isn’t so much, what’s wrong with others, but why aren’t our two personalities matching up?

    Just because you see a person as demanding doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Maybe part of the problem is you? Or me?

  4. The Apathetical Man

    Everyone has a purpose in life. Each and every person is born into this world for a certain reason. Some people can easily find their purpose early on in their lives, while others might have to spend half of their lifetimes trying to figure out the reason why they are here. Nonetheless, regardless of time, everyone has the capacity to find meaning in life.

    1. satou

      No one has a specific purpose. We have free will to choose and create our own purpose. That’s the only beautiful thing in life. It’s very arrogant and selfish to think that you’re supposed to be doing something and if you can’t find it, you feel bad. No, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s the toxic ideology that says everyone has only one certain thing that they were born to do, as if it was predestined by God and they won’t be able to enjoy their lives if they do something else. Did the child who died of cancer at age 5 fail at their life’s purpose?

      I’m sorry if this came off as very negative but I’ve seen people perpetuating this belief and I think it’s really toxic and it is hurting a lot of people if they keep believing this because it leads to a low sense of self-worth.

      1. Heather

        I have loved being around children all my life I learned and figured out at a young age that I have a way to help others feel better and or get out if a situation that is distroying them.
        So when I started having children if my own . I then learned that mamas boys are big baby’s. I still wanted compassionate young men to be considerate about woman’s feelings. After all men do have these same feelings . Do not ignore them and keep your junk attached to your heart. Don’t let it be so easy to separate them cause it will get you in trouble in some way.
        I have put so much thought into how I react to people and what people usually hate. That I have raised 3 amazing young men but my next to I’m afraid are going to have resentment bigger than I have the energy for. I have taught them how to see bullshit before it escalates. And how to watch their surroundings to avoid surprises. People don’t tell the truth and most are just out for themself. It’s almost rare to find that someone really wants to help or actually be a team member..
        I came from a alcoholic mother and drug abuser . My dad was a beer drinker to but only after work.. I have never known him to do any drugs. I guess being with my dad at a young age up until I was about 7. Helped me know that there was a better way of life than what my mother lived. She was not a good role model. As a matter if fact I took everything she did and kind of looked at it as a good bad example. Even the good things she did was not a normal outcome afterwords. .
        Well she died of cervical cancer and that had everything to do with how she was. I mean it didn’t even get her anywhere.
        This is in every way not how I planned my life. But you couldn’t tell that if I told you where I was today. But I don’t mean to blame. This system has to have so many mental health patients. Not to mention that have intelligence.

  5. Rose

    My daughter in law loves to say I’m toxic. I don’t think I am. My son had to children from a previous relationship and she had one child together the have one. I love them all. But she always got a chip on her shoulder with anything to do with our older grandchildren. And we’ve never got along. I’ve tried so hard. Even going so far that when they were younger to tell them mamas/papaw were this and that and putting us down when my son wasn’t home. So we are very different her and I for sure yet I don’t see why we can’t be on same page with main rules and such they have for the kids. But she’s always on me waiting to catch me doing something wrong by her standards. We are good ppl live are gkids. She was raised privileged and very different than we were. But so what our parents mine worked hard mail carrier and police. Thinks she’s better than us. No matter how hard I try keeps calling me toxic. I play victim. Ect. Tried to keep us from seeing kids even. My son never had problem with us before her. A lot of your stuff makes since. I just don’t know why she says I’m toxic so that’s why I’m trying to learn more. Thank you for what you’re writing I hope to keep reading more. It’s killing me. I. Adore those kids so much and my son

  6. Robert

    Good stuff. Wow. Thanks for sharing your gift. I am constantly looking for answers to problems arising & typically type it into Google. Your article came up on the very first page of toxic people. It helped me to take a deep breath and decide to set boundaries for the person I am having difficulties with. I am sure that on the other side of the coin, this person could be looking up a completely different subject to use to attack me. I prefer to kill him with kindness. Hopefully he will learn.

  7. Molly

    Isn’t it sad that we find ourselves in these situations with some people when it could be so much better if they could change, which I understand now isn’t an option. As kindness is a part of my make up, nastiness is not. Thank you, this made for very interesting reading.

    1. Lynward

      It can take a life time for people to change but occasionally they do.

      They have to see it as needful , rewarding and worthwhile . They have to find a “want to” .

  8. Bella Perennis

    Yep, they are all hard to deal with. The most difficult however is the tank, because they take over the situation and tend to use their authority to justify it. Ugh!

  9. Robby Smith

    Such a good article on dealing with the difficult people in our lives, or even notice what category you fall into and how to correct the negativity within us before it starts.

  10. Starr

    Thank you for the great tips! I only wished when you gave examples that you gave an example for each type. You barely touched on the Downer type which is what I was interested in. Keep up the great job!

  11. Arif Khan

    In Real life we ignore such things.In my opinion that was a marvellous job and will help us to deal with different types of persons in a good way

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