In life we generally encounter people with difficult personalities. It’s important to know that everyone may be difficult at some time in their interactions with others. So to expect perfect interactions all the time would not be realistic. Yet, what is important is to understand methods for dealing with individuals who may be consistently difficult.

In fact, what’s necessary for starters is not to be overwhelmed by your own response to these individuals. It’s amazing the number of people who report being constantly “surprised” by the same behavior that others give them.

I taught communications workshops and courses for years for local businesses and also in the business school at Old Dominion University. Frequently, I asked my attendees, “Why are people difficult?” Their answers were primarily as follows: people have had difficult childhoods; they have personality disorders; they are full of repressed anger or fear; they weren’t taking their prescribed medications!, etc. All these answers seemed possible.

The real answer to this question, though, is simple: People are difficult because it works for them! It’s very important that you try to understand the reason for the individual’s behavior so that you can respond in a way that does not condone the behavior.

Let’s take one type of difficult personality: the Exploder. This person appears to have adult temper tantrums, often exploding out of nowhere. So what’s behind this behavior? Let’s try to understand the Exploder’s behavior. What brings explosions out?

  • This person usually feels personally threatened before exploding.
  • When a person feels personally threatened, he/she usually wants to be alone.
  • The Exploder when threatened usually attacks–this creates distance which is what the Exploder wants.
  • The Exploder usually feels suspicious of others and often makes the other person feel afraid or ashamed. Often these feelings are what the Exploder feels and he/she is projecting them on to others.

So how do you not allow this to work for the person? When the Exploder explodes or attacks, do not withdraw or become silent. Weigh your situation, but be sure to maintain your ground, take a stand, and respond by staying in your power.

What about another difficult personality–the Complainer (also known as the Whiner)?

What’s behind the behavior? Usually, the Complainer feels helpless and overwhelmed by an unfair world and unobtainable perfection. He/she may see problems as much worse than they really are and may try to make others miserable too. So offering solutions to them may make them whine even more.

Here’s a Strategy:

  • Listen attentively to the complainer’s complaint even if you feel impatient and give good eye contact. Complainers wants attention.
  • Don’t agree; you’ll encourage them.
  • Don’t disagree; they’ll repeat their problems.
  • Don’t try to solve them – you can’t.
  • Don’t ask them why they are complaining to you since they may start again from the beginning.
  • So listen for the main points, paraphrase and reflect. Write their complaints down.
  • Then shift the focus to asking them to come up with solutions.
  • Try to move into a problem-solving mode by asking specific informational questions.
  • ATTENTION: Your goal is to form a problem-solving alliance.
  • If all the above has achieved nothing, bring your conversations assertively to a close with something like, “Since your issue seems to have no feasible solution at this time, talking about it will probably not allow us to achieve the results you’re seeking. If you happen to think of a possible solution, please put it in writing, so we can proceed.”

When you put them in charge of solving their own problems, they usually cease complaining!