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How to deal with difficult people

Whether it’s a nightmare boss. A drama-queen friend. An angry neighbour. Screaming kids. Or a pushy mum. Dealing with difficult people can test anyone’s resolve. While sometimes it is quite tempting to scream and air your frustrations, this might not be the most conducive form of communication. Here are some tips to help you cope with the difficult people in your lives.

1) Realise the only thing you can control is you

While it would be nice to have a remote control with a “stop being ‘x’” button (e.g. angry, irrational, bossy, spoilt, bunny-boiler crazy) to point at difficult people, sadly this has not been invented. Yet. In this situation you must accept you cannot control their behaviour. The only thing that is within your control is how you react to their behaviour.

2) Be compassionate (yes really)

Now I know the idea of being more compassionate towards difficult people might make you want to swipe left on this article (particularly if they have just unleashed a tirade of abuse in your direction) but hear me out. In NLP, we have a belief: people are not their behaviour. People behave in a ‘negative’ way because they are feeling certain ‘negative’ emotions, usually driven by their own personal insecurities, fears and expectations. How anybody ever reacts to anything is always about them, and never about you.

3) Ask yourself – what is my reaction telling me?

If you are spending a large chunk of your day fantasising about all the ways in which your boss, neighbour or frenemy could meet an untimely death, then take note.  Your reaction is sending you a message. Normally when we have an emotional response to something, it’s because of one of four things:

i) You’re taking it personally. As point 2 highlights, a person’s behaviour is never about you. It is always about them. For example if your boss is angry a deadline hasn’t been met, they are most likely feeling fear. Fear that if the deadline isn’t met it will reflect badly on them. Fear that they could then lose their job. And then maybe their car. And then their house. And then their family. This is what fear does to us. It leads us down a spiraling path of extreme thinking which leads to extreme emotional reactions. The key thing here is it’s their fear. It doesn’t have to become yours.

ii) It’s telling you that you need to develop better strategies for dealing with difficult people. For example being more compassionate. (Come on. You know you want to…)

iii) It might be highlighting an issue you have – with yourself. For example, let’s just say your husband said a certain dress made you look curvy. Now if you believed with 100% certainty that you had an incredible body with curves in all the right places, you would probably take this as a compliment. However, if you had certain doubts about your physical appearance, or were unhappy about some recent weight gain, then this would probably touch a nerve and a ‘colourful’ verbal onslaught might ensue. The message here is not that your husband is super insensitive and mean. The  message is in fact that there is something you need to work on within yourself. In this case to develop more self-love and self-acceptance, and realise you are beautiful just the way you are.

iv) Maybe you have set some unrealistic rules about how people should behave. It’s OK for you to set a rule for yourself to not behave like a mega b****. Setting rules for other people, however, is unrealistic and actually unfair. As point number 2 says, you never know what someone has experienced. Emotional behaviour generally means they have not learnt or developed a better way to cope with their emotions. Maybe they did not have the guidance of a loving and attentive parent to teach them anything else. And while you may believe that it’s about time that they learnt it, that’s something they will have to realise for themselves. At the end of the day, how people decide to behave is really up to them. Setting high expectations for other people’s behaviour will only ever lead to disappointment. Give yourself, and them, a break and lower your expectations to a level of compassion and understanding.

While difficult people can make life tedious at times, recognise that they are simply trying to survive in this crazy world – just like the rest of us. By being more understanding of their problems and more conscious of how you react to them, the bubbling urge to throttle them will eventually subside.

For more advice or guidance on how to manage the relationships in your life, or how to deal with difficult people, please visit or email me at



About the Author

Zeta Yarwood is recognised as a leading Career Coach and NLP Life Coach in Dubai, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives. With a degree in Psychology and over 10 years’ experience in coaching, management and recruitment – working for multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms – Zeta is an expert in unlocking human potential. Passionate about helping people discover their strengths, talents and motivation, Zeta lives to inspire others to dream big and create the life and career they really want.

For further information and inspiration, please visit or follow on Twitter @zetayarwoodLinkedin or Facebook