How to Deal with Difficult People

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Geez! Where did all these crappy, grumpy, controlling people come from? Is it a full moon? Is the SLAP (Sad, Lonely, Angry People) convention in town?

Lately, it seems like everyone I’m close to is dealing with really tricky people. The SLAP kind.

If the SLAPpers are hanging out in your town too, here is a short course in how to deal with difficult people:

Your Emergency Response Plan is actually a series of short decisions.


Decision #1: Is This the Hill You’re Willing to Die On?

The first thing you need to decide is this – How important is it?

A friend recently shared with me that a common military expression is “Is this the hill you’re willing to die on?” Is this “last stand” material? Should you fight? Or should you retreat?

If the relationship is important but the issue is not, let it go. If the issue is important but the relationship is not, let it rip. If the relationship is important AND the issue is important, then you will likely need to respond.


Decision #2: When Do You Respond?

When I was a kid, my mother taught me to use the “24-Hour Rule” before responding to an emotionally charged situation. When something seriously yanks your chain, wait twenty-four hours before you respond.

On the whole, this is prudent advice. But, be careful! Because, for many, MANY women, this policy of WAITING actually leads to a chronic downward spiral of confidence. You give up your voice under the guise of prudence.


“Let’s not talk prudence while practicing evasion.” — anonymous


Make sure that your decision to delay isn’t really a handy excuse to let fear have control of your life. If you do that, you are swallowing your beautiful anger, which will lead to depression, misery, and hopelessness.

I’d like to suggest a modified response plan that was given to me by a friend. It is actually a series of three questions. When someone is yanking your chain, ask yourself these three questions before responding:


1. Does my thought need to be said?

2. Does my thought need to be said BY ME?

3. Does my thought need to be said by me NOW?


If you get a “YES!” to all three questions, then SPEAK NOW!


Decision 3: How Do You Respond?

This one is tricky. If you are a woman who has habitually run from challenging people who use fear to get what they want, it can be intimidating to take your stand again.

But remember, if you have run this situation through the above decision framework, you have already decided that it is both IMPORTANT to respond, AND it is important for YOU to respond NOW.

So gather your courage (or act “as if” you have some), take a deep breath, and do this:


“Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.”


This is the advice that one of my dearest friends suggests. We simply speak our truth. We do not stoop to anyone else’s level. We do not use name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or character assassination. We do not threaten, manipulate, or cajole.

We simply say what is on our heart and, if we can, we say it without rancor.

By the way, that “if we can” caveat is my addition to her suggestion. Learning to stand up for yourself is a process. And, like any new skill you are learning, it will improve with practice.

In other words, please be gentle with yourself when you are changing your self-defeating behaviors.


So there you have it! A short course in How to Deal with Difficult People.

And please don’t worry, love. We’ll do it together. Right here at Life After Tampons.

Much love, Jennifer

P.S. Could I please get your help? It’s really important. Would you please share this post with your friends and networks? We’ve tried to make it easy by adding the share buttons below.

P.P.S. And, let’s keep the wisdom flowing. Why don’t we make our Wisdom Circle comments section below a “best practices” for dealing with difficult people. Please add your suggestions.

photo: flickr, stephen-l-johnson



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15 Responses to How to Deal with Difficult People

  1. Wonderful post! I am just finding my voice to deal with tricky people… there is just a certain kind of woman that has always undermined my confidence and she is inevitably mean to me. I have ultimately concluded that my mother was right – she is a “jealous girl”. Another great tip? Jealous girls are walking, talking, breathing balls of ego… so give them a little ego boost, tell them what is bothering you while trying your best to not convey that it has really hurt you (they love the soft underbelly of a people pleaser) and then stand your ground!

  2. First, I remind myself it’s not about me, it’s about them. The old ‘bounces off me and sticks to you’. Whatever people are criticizing you about is exactly what they don’t like about themselves. Rather than defend myself (because they aren’t actually talking about me) I ask them to explain. The right questions will get them to talking about themselves.

    The second tactic I use is to stand beside them rather than in front. I do this literally and figuratively. I agree with them. Then I put another, more optimistic, realistic spin on the situation.

    The most fun is when they argue with me agreeing with them. Then I agree with that and they argue that place, too. It’s hard not to laugh out loud at that point.

    If all else fails, I nod and smile and walk away.

    • Jennifer says:

      I love the reminder — and you are so right. The way that SLAPpers respond is absolutely about them and not you. The tricky part is when it affects you. I so loved your visual about standing beside them, too.

      Thank you.

  3. Bonnie says:

    Oh, I could have used this post last month! You are so right, there are times that if we wait 24 hours (or even greater in my world) you do fall down that rabbit hole of hopelessness, depression – blaming yourself!) I’m printing this post as I need these “life lessons’ available as a reminder that there are times when it is healthy to express your anger, not mean spirited, but from your heart (which actually sounds like an oxymoron, having an “angry heart”). Thanks again for providing such incredible wisdom.

  4. Some great advice here – love the 24 hour rule! Always good to sleep on a decision especially if it involves some level of conflict.
    The SLAPs are alive and well in my part of the world that’s for sure!
    My tip for anyone having to deal with a difficult person is to rehearse the conversation mentally beforehand.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you, Carolyn. I’d like to hear more about the success you’ve had with rehearsing. I’ve tried that method and ended up getting lost in “what ifs.” Jen

  5. Knowing the term SLAPers will make a huge differrence – I just never had a quick way of saying “I know who you are and what you’re up to” Thanks for a great quick ID tool!

  6. Sue Kearney says:

    First: what a fabulous wish-I’d-thought-of-it name for your website! Second: love the post. Staying heart-based and taking a stand for what’s right, all at the same time.


    Love and light,

  7. Wendie Tobin says:

    If you decide to engage, never let the mission of “showing them the light” be your motivation. Accept that you will probably be the sole beneficiary of whatever sentiment you feel the need to express. Also, use protection! Mean people tend to be energy vampires; be protective of your spirit. Say your words or decide to STFU, and get out of Dodge!

  8. Pingback: The Personal Development Round-up: August 2012 | Prismatic Cognizance

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