Dealing With Difficult People – 4 Reaction Steps

How you can own your reactions when encountering difficult people


Editor’s Note: This is part 1 or a 3 part series on maintaining composure and managing encounters with difficult people

Is encountering a difficult person all in the eye of the beholder? Is the person you see as rude, combative, loud, unappreciative, demanding, incompetent, ungrateful necessarily these things or is there a component of your own perception in play?

Priming Your Brain For Difficult People

Sometimes “difficult’” people are defined as such based on the perception of the beholder. That’s not to say that people aren’t acting rude, loud, combative and so on, but how this is perceived and how you react often has more to do with you than with the other person.

Research demonstrates that our perceptions of people and situations are routinely impacted by many factors, not the least of which are how we are feeling at the time. The nature of our brains is such that we can be “primed” by our recent and distant past experiences, our health, our individual personality and more. The good or bad encounter you recently had with a loved on or even a stranger can propel you to rush to judgment in the next encounter. This is why in some circumstances you may react badly and in others you may not.  It is also the same mechanism that primes us to judge people we encounter based on stereotypes or our past experiences.

You probably understand that your own perceptions play a significant role in your ability to manage people and situations. The good news is that this means you have at least some choice in how you perceive another person.

The Right Frame of Mind Impacts Composure

Perception and context are powerful contributors to our experiences. Depending on your own frame of mind, you’re generally able to demonstrate more or less tolerance and flexibility. When you’re feeling well, are well rested and have minimal stress, you’re more able to tolerate a wider range of behaviors and stressors. An impulsive, loud and frustrating co-worker is less so when you’re in a great mood. When you are in a poor mood or are experiencing health problems, you may perceive people as more difficult. You may react poorly to a “tone of voice” of an employee (or your teenager) or to how quickly (or slowly) someone follows-through on the actions you requested.

You may not be able to stop people from behaving badly, but if you can learn how to reframe your perception, you can gain better control of your own reactions and increase your odds of more effectively managing the situation.


Tara Orchard
Tara Orchard
Tara Orchard is a coach, trainer, consultant and writer who applies her insights into people and Masters training in psychology to facilitate performance improvements, relationships and communication for people and businesses. She has worked with organizations to deliver clarity on culture and brand, develop their people and manage relationships with social network communities. Over the past 18 years she has consulted with 1000's of people who want to make effective transitions in their lives. Tara has a knack for hearing what people are thinking and helping them see what they need to see. She is the founder of her own career and social network coaching business, works with several other organizations as a coach and consultant and is about to complete her first book on the "psychology of effective social networking".

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