Dealing with Difficult Personality Traits

April 04, 2020

Dealing with Difficult Personality Traits

Individuals all around us have their own unique personality.  Undoubtedly, we all encounter individuals from time to time with personalities that are challenging, negative, and even aggressive.  Being able to recognize and successfully interact with these individuals enables us to turn a potentially difficult situation into a positive one. When we better understand individuals with difficult personalities, it keeps us from taking things personally.  Additionally, we can help create a safe and productive environment for others. 

Some of the more dominant difficult personality traits include:

  • Hostile people- These individuals are often abusive and intimidating, finding pleasure in the fear they create. They enjoy reacting, so they’ll wait for others to challenge them.   
    • How to handle hostile people:
      • Find ways for them to let off steam and calm down without becoming abusive. Perhaps, encourage them to take a run or go to the gym.
      • Address them by name, and calmly state what you want to discuss. Do not engage them in an argument. 
      • Set boundaries. Try not to engage with them in front of an audience, as this will trigger a larger reaction.
    • Narcissistic people- These individuals are interested in being the center of attention as often as possible. They want to look like the expert who can do everything better than you.
      • How to handle narcissistic people:
        • Refuse to argue or act like you know more than they do.
        • Explain that you would like to use your knowledge too. They might be more open to this suggestion and cooperate more.
      • Passive aggressive people- These individuals are sly and cunning when they undercut authority. They will insult people in a sarcastic way and claim they are just joking.  Passive aggressive people will never directly address issues with you.
        • How to handle passive aggressive people:
          • Try to focus on the issue and not the person. This helps the individual not to personalize what is being directed at them.
          • Confronting this personality trait in public will only make them react. In private, be clear that you will not tolerate their sarcasm and undercutting.
        • Negative people- People with this personality trait distrust anyone in power or authority. They are the only ones who know the right way and can find a downside to anything.  Negative people express doubt in response to most any solution proposed. 
          • How to handle negative people:
            • Focus on the facts of a situation. Trying to emphasize solutions will not help as these individuals are typically more invested in the persistence of the problem than in finding the solution.
            • Refuse to argue with them. Instead, ask them what would be different if the problem was solved.
          • Antisocial people- These individuals resist attempts to be engaged socially, making it impossible to know what they are thinking or doing. Antisocial people typically distrust others and assume everyone is against them.
            • How to handle antisocial people:
              • Use open-ended questions when you speak to them. This forces them to not answer with a simple, one-word answer. 
              • Be comfortable with silence. You may have to wait it out until they feel comfortable to share their thoughts, opinions, and/or feelings.

Consequences of Dealing with Difficult People

While avoiding a discussion with a difficult person is worse, there are still possible unpleasant effects to a confrontation. 

  • Guilt- Family members and loved ones can struggle with responsibility for the person’s behavior. They may feel caught between offering support and enabling the person’s negative behaviors.
  • Internalization- Sometimes we can take the difficult person’s behavior personally, struggling with what’s been said or done to us.
  • Grief- Family members might experience symptoms of depression and anxiety themselves, potentially impacting their marriage or other relationships. They might also grieve the relationship they feel they lost or never had with the difficult individual. 

Coping with Difficult People

Knowing how to handle and react to difficult personality traits is beneficial in all environments.  Here are some common strategies to deal with all difficult personality styles.

  • Address- Don’t ignore people and pretend they don’t exist. Ignoring the problem, or the person, won’t make the situation go away.  Chances are it will only grow, so the responsible thing to do is to address the person and the issue. 
  • Express- Remember, you probably don’t have the whole picture. You may not know all that’s happened in the individual’s background, their mental health, or the past crises they may have faced.  Empathize and express compassion.
  • Assess- Consider your own emotions. If you’re having a particularly stressful day and can’t seem to remain calm, it’s not the right time to address issues with a difficult person.  Staying calm and neutral is the best way to approach and deal with difficult people. 

Dealing with difficult personality traits in the people we love or work with requires effort.  It can be frustrating and discouraging at times, but if you are able to persist and communicate with compassion, you might find a solution to the challenge.   


Want to talk to a counselor today about this? 

Call Amplified Life at 800-453-7733 and ask for your “Free 15 Minute Phone Consultation" with one of our licensed counselors. We’ll listen, answer questions you may have, and help you plan next steps.





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