Difficult People

by Suzanne Neville

Start from a strong place

No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Your ability to deal with difficult people effectively starts inside you. If you feel confident and willing to try different strategies to handle the difficult behaviour, you are more likely to get a positive result.

Those people who start from a strong place are also less likely to encounter difficult situations.

Beliefs and results

We all form views on whether or not we have certain aptitudes or skills. In this context, it can be useful to consider

  • What has led you to form these views?
  • Are your views based on perception or reality?
  • Does your perception dictate the reality?

Many of us have developed beliefs in ourselves and our abilities that are based on the judgment of others. These judgments have frequently been made quickly and without much thought, yet they can have an immense impact on our self esteem.

Fear of failure and lack of belief in our own ability often prevents us from taking risks and becoming involved in new pursuits. It can be useful to challenge your limiting beliefs. You may not excel in a particular activity, but if you have fun and gain experience while doing it, you will have accomplished something worthwhile; who knows, perhaps you can even create a new reality!

  1. Write down some of your limiting beliefs: think of some things you just know you’re not good at – activities that fill you with dread if you have to get involved in them or that you simply don’t enjoy because, in your view, you can’t or don’t do them well.
  2. If possible, identify why you think you cannot do these things. Ask yourself if your belief is based on someone else’s judgment (teacher/parent/friends). Or have you formed these opinions simply because you failed in those particular pursuits on previous occasions?
  3. Use your disputing skills on these beliefs. Could you never do these things? Who says so? Will you always fail at/be scared of/dislike them? What would help you to change your beliefs?
  4. You may feel quite comfortable with some of your limiting beliefs. It is quite likely that you have no desire to improve your skill levels in certain areas. However, some of your limiting beliefs may be restricting your enjoyment in life and sense of fulfilment. Identify at least two limiting beliefs you would like to change. Discuss them with a trusted colleague, your partner, a coach or a mentor and identify steps you could take to dispel or overcome your existing views.

How to appear confident

Sometimes, our body language and the way in which we communicate can let us down. You are far more likely to elicit a positive response if you appear confident (but not, of course, aggressively so).

Eye contact

In a one-on-one situation, maintain eye contact and avoid staring or using a fixed gaze, both of which are unnerving and can give out the wrong signals. Keep your eyes relaxed; don’t forget to blink and, by lowering your eyes briefly on deflecting them, make the person feel they still have your attention. Good eye contact confirms your interest, confidence and sincerity in what you are saying.


Effective communicators deliver clear and precise information without rambling or constantly reiterating points. Although their dialogue can appear spontaneous, there is generally a high level of planning involved. Key points are identified and a conversation is punctuated by bullet points. Mental and written preparation increases your ability to communicate clearly.

  • Think carefully about what you want to say.
  • What is the purpose of your communication?
  • Who is your audience and what language is appropriate – in other words, formal or informal?
  • What is your desired outcome?
  • Mentally rehearse your conversation in advance, highlighting key points.
  • Write your key points down.
  • Be positive: demonstrate enthusiasm and conviction.

Saying yes and no clearly builds confidence and rids us of the misconception that we are powerless.

Marsha Sinetar


Let your tone of voice convey enthusiasm. The way in which you relay something has a huge impact on your listener(s). If you want other people to be excited about your ideas, show you are too.

Facial expression

How warm and approachable are your facial expressions? Do you convey interest in what the person is saying? Do they know you are paying real attention to them?

Your facial expression will reveal all this to your potentially difficult person, so it is good to occasionally monitor what you are projecting through your facial expression, especially if you are not getting the results you want.


Ask a trusted friend or partner to give you feedback on how expressive you are. Alternatively, repeat a typical interaction alone in front of a mirror. Be as accurate as possible, and then rehearse until you have got it right. Be an honest and true friend to yourself!

Body language

Is your body language conveying the right messages?

  • Check your body language: is your posture open, natural and relaxed?
  • Practise some deep breathing to help you to relax.
  • Stand tall and use open gestures.
  • Be natural.