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.

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.

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.

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

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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