5 Tips for Dealing with ‘Difficult’ People

May 23, 2023
Female counsellor talking to a female patient in an office

We have all had to deal with difficult people at one time or another. And conversely, we have all been at a level of behaviour when others have found us difficult to deal with.

You may find there are certain common themes among those who can de-escalate you and consistencies in how all people want to be treated, regardless of the situation or the person being dealt with.

Here are five simple needs that people in crisis have and strategies for meeting those needs.

I want to be heard.

We all know that hearing and listening are two different things. I'd like you to contemplate what I’ve said. Don't give me a rapid-fire, scripted response. Your silence and thoughtful gestures have more value to me than you filling the void with your voice. I want answers to my questions. If I ask a question, I want an answer even if you need time to find the answer. I can accept that. I need empathic statements that tell me that you value my feelings. Otherwise I might as well be talking to a mannequin.

I want a resolution.

Crisis behaviour is “needy” behaviour. Please meet my needs. This will have a calming effect on me. In most every case, people act out because their needs are not being met or their needs are being threatened in some way. What can you do to meet my needs, even if it involves some negotiation or compromise on your part? I'm not asking you to part with a kidney, but what can you offer that shows me you’re willing to meet me halfway? Show me that you’re flexible and on my side.

I don't want to be judged.

You telling me that my problem is not a problem in your mind gets you crossed off my Christmas list. You telling me to “calm down” will have an opposite effect. Not only does that statement sound judgmental, it's patronising and can be perceived as condescending. Telling me that I shouldn't feel that way gets you voted off the island.

I don't want to be compared to everybody else.

Yes, I know that every day you deal with people just like me. I know that you’ve heard it all before. And I know that your caseload is truly unmanageable. But I am an individual. I have my own concerns, and despite what you may think, my situation IS unique. I’m not looking for special treatment and this is not about self-entitlement. Consider who I am and what you know about me. Please customise your response and solutions to the person in front of you.

Finally, follow up with me.

I realise that this is not always possible, but if you can, you should. This shows me that you were invested. I don't need a dozen roses accompanied by a sympathy card. A simple phone call or email telling me that you understood my problem and took some action to address it can speak volumes. Because this kind of action is so rare nowadays, this will truly blow my mind. It will also keep me in check the next time I bring something to you. I will know that you care. And that’s what crisis intervention is all about.
Crisis intervention does not have to be complex and we hope these suggestions have helped to simplify things. We don't need to overanalyse anything. What we need to do is follow some general guidelines that any health or social care worker, regardless of their job title, can use.

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