how to maintain your cool because You're out front & in the lead

We all must deal with difficult people in both our personal and professional lives. Let's admit it, clients, family, colleagues and the like all get on our nerves at some point. Not only is there nothing we can do about it, that is even the problem. The problem is that many of us don't have the skillset to deal with difficult people in a productive (and affirming) way.

how industry influencers deal with difficult people

Difficult people come in every conceivable variety. Some talk constantly and never listen. Others must always have the last word. Some fail to keep commitments. Others criticize anything that they did not create, say or do first. Difficult colleagues, clients and stakeholders compete with you for power, privilege, and the spotlight.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Industry Influencers are successful because they know how to plan for success. Know in advance the types of difficult people that you may encounter, then prepare for it. Plan how you will control your response and how you will react to the person so you both can walk away with a positive experience.

In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner identify 10 specific behavior patterns that people resort to when they feel threatened, don’t get what they want, or face undesirable circumstances along with prescriptive guidance on how to deal with them.

Let's review the 10 Most Common Difficult People:


These confrontational folks swing first and ask questions second. When you’re dealing with them, it’s important to hold your ground and using qualifying statements like, “From my point of view…” Don’t let them run you over. You got this!


If words are weapons, then these people are sharp shooters. They know how to use sarcasm and rude comments to hit the mark on hurting your feelings. Because snipers like to operate behind thinly veiled disdain, you can stop them in their tracks by pausing whatever you’re doing or saying and questioning them directly about what their comment meant.


If you contradict someone who knows everything, Drs. Kirschner and Brinkman say you’re in for a mouthful. Instead, present your views in a less direct manner with phrases like, “I was just wondering,” and “Perhaps…” That way, you’re getting your point across without allowing the other person to take the upper hand.


Similar to the last group, these individuals hold high opinions of their own opinions. They tend to talk in generalizations, so you can check their hubris by asking them for the specifics. Go for the who, what, when, where, why and how they’re more than likely leaving out.


People who bottle up their anger and then let it explode are grenade people. Likely, their anger won’t even be about the subject at hand, so your best bet is to get their attention and call for everyone involved to take five while they simmer down.

the 'yes' person

After saying “yes” to every last request thrown their way, these people hold resentment for their very long to-do lists. The best way to help them out is to remind them, repeatedly, that they don’t need to give the affirmative on every last thing that’s asked of them.

the 'maybe' person

These people procrastinate decision-making in the moment in the hopes that a grass is greener alternative will suddenly appear. They respond best when you give them options that are 100 percent clear and leave no room for a response like, “Er, I don’t know…”

the 'nothing' person

Nothing people contribute, well, nothing. A whole conversation will pass by without a word, so your best course of action is to ask open-ended questions that will draw them out of their shells.

the 'no' person

When you’re on a roll and someone stops you dead in your tracks, that person is a no person. Your best option is to let them have their naysaying moment, then pivoting your chat into a more helpful and hopeful direction.

the whiners

I don’t think I need to explain this one. Whiners like to dwell in their perceived issues. So when you talk to them in a solution-oriented, you’re more likely to carve through their self-pity. At the same time, make sure you’re truly listening to them and addressing their concerns.

Stay focused on getting your tasks completed. Getting the tasks right is essential. While getting along with people is ideal, it is essential to most to get appreciation from people.

    Here are the key take aways from the experts:

    • People aren’t their behavior. It’s not the person, it’s the behavior. They can change. People are a spectrum of possibilities.
    • People demonstrate patterns of behavior. There are patterns you can identify that help you anticipate, interact, and react more effectively.
    • People vs. task focus. One important continuum that explains why people do what they do is whether they have a task focus or a people focus. For instance, do they care more about the work or the team that’s doing the work?
    • Passive vs. aggressive tendencies. Another important continuum that explains why people do what they do is their level of assertiveness. Some people demonstrate more passive tendencies, while others demonstrate more aggressive tendencies.
    • Balance is the key. At the end of the day, it’s demonstrating balance among the forces that helps keep behavior in check.

    In my opinion, improving communication is one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your effectiveness. Knowing how to deal with the top negative behaviors is a great way to boost your ability to get results and improve the quality of your life.

    Listen More Than You Speak

    Listen to understand the other person's point of view. Listen to find common ground. What will for sure stagnate the conversation is if you listen long enough to formulate your rebuttal. Listening is key for a better understanding of the other person's perspective, even if you don't agree.

    Set Limits and Boundaries

    If possible, as you prepare for the difficult conversation with a difficult person, set limits. Knowing your boundaries in advance will help you identify when to retreat because the conversation is no longer productive. Setting limits also help you stay in line with your priorities and realistic expectations.

    Keep Your Manners

    Keep calm and be courteous. It is expected for difficult people to be demanding, loud or even belligerent at times however, as the Industry Influencer, you must always maintain your composure. Difficult people need a sparring partner. It is almost impossible for them to fight independently so it is in your best interest not to allow others to draw you into their drama.

    Stay Off the Defensive Train

    It is a common ploy for a difficult person to imply that you are the one being difficult. They try to get you to change focus by projecting their nonsense onto you. If you aren't careful they will have you second-guessing your point of view. This in turn will cause you to become defensive. Don't fall for it. Take a deep breath, stay focused and move efficiently to your next point, without negative energy.

    Bridge the Gap: Facts & Emotions

    Difficult people are often known to rely on feelings and emotions as they become more committed to winning the argument. They may also focus their venom on your ability to address their need and provide solutions. Maintain patience while directing them to the facts while showing empathy for their feelings. No good can come from ignoring either one.

    TagTeam Different Deliveries

    Get help from an ally or a neutral person who can help you breakthrough the communication barriers. Be careful not to come off as it's a 2:1 unfair fight. The difficult person may be receptive to hearing another perspective from someone who can present the message differently. Remember, the message is only as good as the delivery. Send messages in a way the difficult person can receive it. 

    Avoid Pulling Rank

    We know that you are the leader. It's clear that you have the power. However, making this clear may get you a win in the battle column but you may not win the war. Your goal is to get buy-in, collaboration and cooperation. You can't dominate someone to remain calm, listen and be open to your ideas. You may however, have the authority to bully them into faking like they're listening. This is a lose/lose situation. Don't react to nonsense, stay focused and stay positive. You're the leader, model the behavior you want to see.

    Keep Control But Don't Control

    When dealing with a difficult person always remember that humans are free thinking, they have free will and they have the right to autonomy. It is not your mission to change the way people think and feel. Your goal is to find common ground in order to get the need met. Your intention is to get the task completed. The objective is to get cooperation. Do not have attachment to changing their mindset. That is not your responsibility. Plan the seed, water it with facts nurture it with empathy and release any attachment whether or not they receive it. Perhaps the lightbulb will come on, maybe they will get it...sooner, or later. In the meantime, practice self-control, interact positively and keep your eye on the need.

    Difficult people are like bumble bees: no matter how much they annoy you and disrupt your day relaxing on the deck, they still show up to  serve nature and fulfill their call-of-duty. It is true that some people show up in your space to test your kindness, patience, and yes, your knowledge and experience too. These folks often arrive in our lives as judgmental, narcissistic, energy vampires. They get under your skin, but they still have purpose. In part, they keep your skills sharp and give you ample opportunity to practice your patience muscle. Industry Influencers negotiate for the win-win.

    Now you know this is the part where I ask you to share your stories. Tell me all about the difficult folks in your life...and how you manage the relationship to get the need met. I am sooo looking forward to reading the comments. 😏


    Andrea Callahan inspires passionate & purpose-driven brands to maximize their strengths to craft an image that represents their WHY, and then use that WHY to position themselves as Industry Influencers; who share experiences that attract their Ideal Buyers. Callahan is a speaker, seminar leader, and the author of, "It's Your Brand ~ Make Your Identity Clear." Callahan is also the principal brand manager @ACIagency, a high-end boutique, integrated-marketing agency, specializing in helping locally-owned brands share their WHY.

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