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4 Quick Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

4 Quick Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

The moment I mentioned those two words – “Difficult People” I know what’s happening in your head. You’re immediately picturing the face of the most difficult person in your life. Your pulse rate has just gone up and the emotions are racing. Why is that?


Pavlov’s Dogs

You know the story of Pavlov’s dogs right? 

In his digestive research, Pavlov and his assistants would introduce a variety of edible and non-edible items to dogs, and measure the saliva production that the items produced. Salivation, he noted, is a reflexive process. It occurs automatically in response to a specific stimulus and is not under conscious control. (Ref)

And that is exactly what happens when the stimulus of “difficult people” is waved under our noses. We experience a conditioned emotional response. Our heart takes over and we feel anger, resentment, fear, pain, regret … a potent cocktail of negativity which evokes the fight or flight impulse in us.

That’s okay up to a point, until you realise that while you’re in that frame of mind, there is nothing that you can do, to improve the situation.

Let’s face it – when you’re ready to punch someone in the nose, or you feel like curling up in the foetal position and letting out a primeval scream, you’re not going to be particularly well disposed to dealing with the problem, right?


Engage the Mind

That’s why, when we’re keen on actually doing something to fix the problem, to improve the relationship, to reduce the amount of stress that difficult people cause us  – we need to stop and think. We need to engage the mind, to change the circumstances.

Of course, that’s God’s very point:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

That’s easier for some than others. If you’re a “heart person”, one of those people who perceives the world and interacts with it mainly through your heart, then it’s going to be more difficult for you, because your emotions (both positive and negative) play such a big part in this for you.

If, like me, you’re more of a “mind” and “strength” person, it’s less of an issue, but depending on the nature of the relationship, it can still be tough.

The difference between “heart” people and “mind and strength” people, explains why some struggle to deal with difficult people, and others don’t seem to mind too much about having to confront them. 

But whichever we are, to make things better, we need to step back from the raw emotion and think about it. That’s the key. It’s not that the steps we need to take won’t involve our emotions, but while we’re busy judging the other person and thinking about all the ways that we can inflict pain on them, we’re not in a position to help them, or ourselves.

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. (Matt 7:1-5)


4 Quick Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

  1. Understand Their Pain: Often, that difficult person is going through their own pain. Perhaps they’re living out the consequences of something that happened in the past. Perhaps that difficult person at work, has marriage problems at home. Perhaps they’re insecure, which explains why they have to put other people down so much. Often, when we take the time to realise what they’re struggling with, it’s enough to disarm our own hostility towards them, and put us in a position to make a positive contribution.
  2. Forgive Them: Forgiveness is a big thing for God. In fact, it’s the whole point of that Jesus-on-the-Cross thing, right? Have you ever asked yourself why forgiveness is such a big thing for Him? It’s because without forgiveness, there’s no possibility of restoring the relationship. And remember, God forgave you and me through His own suffering, while we were still His enemies. There’s a message in that for you and me. (Rom 5:6-8)
  3. Find Ways to Bless Them: Before we forgive them, we want to execute judgement and gain recompense for the loss that they’ve caused us. But once we’ve forgiven them, now we can bless them. Let me ask you, when someone has blessed you when you didn’t deserve it, how did you react? Right … that’s exactly my point. When you and I find ways to bless our enemies, there’s every chance that peace is going to break out. (Matt 5:44-45)
  4. The Power of Prayer:  Notice that Jesus said there in Matthew 5:44-45 not just to bless them, but to pray for them. God specialises in forgiveness and reconciliation, would you agree? Imagine what could happen if you invited Him into that difficult relationship. Just imagine. First up, I’ve noticed that praying for my enemies changes me. It softens my heart. It moves me down along that path of forgiveness. And secondly, I’ve seen amazing things happen to others, through the power of prayer. (John 14:13-14)


6 Powerful Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People

The reason that I’ve written a book called Dealing with Difficult People is because we all have difficult people in our lives. And we all need help to move from our Pavlovian emotional responses, to thinking through how we can improve our most difficult relationships, and then taking the steps to make that happen.

And the reason I’ve made the book available as a free download in eBook format, is that I know that you too, like the rest of us, have difficult people in your life. So be blessed as you embark on your journey, to deal with the difficult people in your life.

eBooklet ADP


  1. I was amongst difficult people that I have avoided for 2 years. Two older sisters who have been cruel and unkind to me in the past. But it was a family occasion for my niece and I put this in front of them and for once put it into perspective. I was able to attend on my own as it was an all girl occasion. I was without the security of my husband to hold my hand. But I walked in with a feeling of quiet confidence. My sisters were ok even though they still showed signs that they had not changed. No real attempt to have a conversation but gave an impression of authority amongst the group of women. I will not deny I felt saddened by their deliberate exclusion. Scripture from Gods word is teaching me that to find peace and wisdom is not to fight, not to justify or make judgement, but to hold trust with God and he will give you an inner peace. Not having the need to be accepted by them brings acceptance of what I need. I purchased a magnet in a gift shop that day that I could not resist. it said ” I dream of a world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned”.

    Thanks for your encouraging words of teaching us Gods wisdom Berni.

  2. Thanks Berni,

    I have just said nothing when my ‘Difficult Person’ started complaining about other people ‘being lazy’ and then not doing her job during her shift. (it is something generational with me and it hit a hidden nerve). I was starting a new shift and she was going home; I was speechless! I was angry! So I rang the person that was on-call and had a talk or vent to her.

    In truth I was angry at myself because I let her get to me! I couldn’t believe I carried the resentment around for two days! I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to go into an angry tirade at her it wouldn’t have helped anyway.

    She has been stressed. That I know. It’s only now that I thought to prayer for her. Still she ticks me off! So I prayer for me!

    How do you know if you are heart based or mind strength based?

    I think I have just worked out I am a heart based person – I have great empathy. This is my gift and when I am tired I am no good for anyone!

  3. I think that your 4 steps are excellent, Bernie! 🙂

  4. I’m not talking about the lady above’s experience as I hadn’t read it before posting. Mine’s more about Christian / work environments.

  5. Much easier said than done. Blessing difficult people is one thing but when they simply don’t want you around it is time to ‘dust off your shoes’ and move on. Discernment is a key factor; why be a ko’ed boxer who keeps throwing himself back into the ring for even more punishment when you can just take it on the chin and move on? Some relationships are worth fighting for but not all.

  6. Thank you Bernie, for this very reassuring passage. My husband and I have been separated for 6 months now and we have a 2 year old daughter. I left him because of his difficult personality plus he has serious anger and insecurity issues and also suffers from depression. His condition which often led him to be mentally and emotionally abusive were affecting the peace in me and the way I cared for our daughter before we separated. For 3 years I thought I was practicing exactly what you wrote, especially trying to understand his pain and forgiving him. And just before we separated, I had been praying especially hard for him. But I still kept finding myself like having to walk on egg shells all the time when I was around him and most times only ended up with hurt and tears by his treatment of me. I still love my husband and hopes for our family to reunite one day, but I’m very afraid of getting hurt and abused again. Even my parents whom I’m now living with do not think that I should go back to him. So I’m just very conflicted at the moment.

    • Irene,

      it’s a tough situation and sometimes, the extreme step of separation is a necessary one, sad as that my be. My counsel is that you live through this separation with the intent of reuniting, and view it as a positive step towards bringing your marriage and your family back together again. A long term cycle of abuse is not going to be good for you, for your daughter or, in the end for your husband.

      My prayer for you is that he is realising that he needs help and that he gets that help. If he knows that his marriage depends on it, and that you are supporting him and loving him, that will contribute strongly. May the Lord have a powerful influence over your husband, your marriage and your family.


    • Dear Irene. I see that you are struggling! – May I recommend both for you and your husband to check out the homepage? If you can get in touch with somebody from there (in Australia: New Life Worldwide Ministries) there is a great chance that you both could get to the root of your problems + receive healing from those roots. Sincerely yours, Ingrid Lang, Abiding Life Denmark

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