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May 31, 2023

Am I a Difficult Person – or Is It Everyone Else?

Rosie Robinson

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Some people seem to have a talent for getting under your skin. They relish being insufferable and take pleasure in making your life as difficult as possible. Why else would they be so annoying?

Unfortunately, there are many irritating people out there – from the story one-uppers and interrupters to the lazy good-for-nothings, know-it-alls, and lip-smackers. In fact, you may even work with a few of them.

What Is a Difficult Person – and Could It Be You?

Difficult behavior will look and impact everyone differently. Psychology professor and personality researcher, Joshua D Miller, Ph.D. identified seven traits of "disagreeableness" – callousness, grandiosity, aggressiveness, suspicion, manipulativeness, dominance, and risk-taking.

According to Miller, these seven traits help us to understand how antagonistic behavior can present in different people and strongly overlap with the three dark personality traits, otherwise known as the Dark Triad.

Miller even went on to use these traits to create a quiz for people to quantify their difficult personality as a percentage. I don't think I need to divulge what percentage I got, but let's just say it wasn't zero…

So, it turns out that everyone's at least a little bit difficult. But, according to Miller, as long as we are open and willing to change, our antagonism doesn't have to define us. So perhaps we shouldn't be too judgmental of other people's annoying qualities.

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Three Tips for Working With Difficult People

Fine, we've admitted that we may not be the easiest to get along with. But that doesn't change the fact that we still have to work with difficult people. And while spending every day with them may feel like a never-ending nightmare, it's a reality that we all have to face.

So, if you want to keep your career and reputation intact, you'll need to learn to keep a cool head and deal with these situations respectfully and professionally.

Author of "Getting Along: How to Work With Anyone (Even Difficult People)," Amy Gallo, says that by modeling the behavior you want to see, you can "nudge" people into having more productive interactions. (You can hear from more experts about how to work with difficult people in our latest podcast episode.)

And while you may not be able to completely change other people's behavior, you can change how you react to it by following these simple rules:

1. Choose Your Battles

Consider if a person's difficult behavior is worth confronting. Does it get in the way of you doing your job? Have others complained? For example, a colleague chewing their lunch with their mouth open may be annoying, but it probably doesn't affect your work and may not warrant a discussion.

2. Take a Breather

Antagonistic actions can be tough to ignore and it's easy to allow them to cloud your judgment. Before you address the issue, take a moment to gather yourself. Deep breathing and slowly counting to 10 can help to lower your heart rate, restore calm, and look at the situation objectively.

3. Pick Your Words Carefully

If you do choose to approach the person about their behavior, be sure to do it privately. Be honest about how they have made you feel and assert your boundaries but always remain calm and polite. They may not even be aware of what they've been doing so be patient and allow them to explain themselves.

Getting along with your co-workers is an essential part of working life. But when antagonistic behavior threatens to disturb the peace, it's important not to let your emotions get the better of you. Gather yourself, be honest, and most importantly, treat others with kindness. After all, no one's perfect.

Have you ever worked with difficult people? To learn more about how to deal with difficult people, check out our supporting article.


Blog author Rosie Robinson

About the Author

With a background in writing and illustration, Rosie uses her creative eye to produce eye-catching content. Specializing in videos, newsletters and articles, Rosie produces, writes, edits, and proofreads a wide range of resources. When she's not busy working, she'll likely be found whipping up cakes for her friends and family!

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Managers and leaders have been using Mind Tools for over 25 years

Now, 24 million learners globally benefit from our extensive Content Library, development tools, and custom learning experiences. See how Mind Tools for Business can help develop your managers and leaders.
Find out more

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