No matter where you go or what you do, learning how to get along with difficult people is an essential part of your journey that transforms your social interactions and connections.
There are difficult people everywhere–negative, abusive, opposing ideas, low or no integrity, controlling, or people who do not like you for no particular reason.
Dealing with difficult co-workers, dealing with difficult family members, or dealing with difficult strangers all take a toll on you emotionally and spiritually.
And if we are honest, everyone has been thought of as a difficult person by someone.
As Christians, we are walking out our salvation daily and so are others. We will offend people and be offended. Sometimes very nice, well-meaning people hurt your feelings or disagree with you.
You learn how to get along with difficult people when you learn how to manage emotions, disappointment, and conflict. The alternative is living in a world of anger, hostility, anxiety, and a “me vs. them” mentality which is exhausting and lonely.
We all have difficult people in our world, but many difficult encounters are just people like you and me making very human mistakes. Forgiveness is the key for us to grow in Christ as we grow in healthy relationships.
Adjusting your expectations, setting boundaries, managing emotions and forgiveness help you discover how to get along with difficult people and love them.
What is a Difficult Person?
Having differing opinions or experiencing conflict does not classify people as difficult. That is part of normal human interaction.
What is a difficult person? A difficult person is characterized by a pattern of behavior that is not remedied or changed which hurts or causes discomfort to others.
Several years ago, I got stuck at a red light and was blocking traffic. I tried to fix my position but could not move. As I looked out the window, I noticed a lady in the car behind me showing her displeasure for the duration of the signal.
It was awkward and inconvenient for both of us but what had I done except make an unavoidable mistake? But to that lady, I triggered some emotion and became a difficult person! This negative gesture by someone I didn’t know really upset me.
The lady at the traffic light was probably just having a bad day but at that moment we were both dealing with difficult behavior that left a negative impression on me.
Dealing with a difficult person triggers your emotions and drives you to react, attack, and/or defend ourselves.
You may be caught off guard when initially encountering a difficult person. If someone is being difficult in traffic, in Walmart, or at a ball game you can learn to shake it off. You don’t necessarily need to dig up tactics on how to get along with difficult people…just avoid and move on or smile as a token of kindness!
But what happens when you are dealing with a difficult co-worker or dealing with a difficult family member who is in your life permanently or for a long season? What happens when you are learning how to get along with a difficult person that lives with you?
The bottom line is difficult people make your life less enjoyable, less productive, and play havoc on you emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
What are the Characteristics of a Difficult Person?
There are many characteristics of a difficult person or difficult behavior. ‘What is difficult behavior’ to one person may not be characterized as difficult behavior by another person.
But there are some behaviors that tend to discourage and negatively impact most people.
4 Difficult Behaviors
#1 Complainers– When we complain we express feelings of pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment.
“Everything is the pits and you can’t convince me otherwise.”
Do you notice complaining is highly contagious? “How are you? It’s so hot. My kids are driving me crazy, and my friend just let me down. Well, let me tell you what happened to me…” And so it goes.
Some complaining is normal we have to get it out! But a pattern of complaining indicates an anemic spirit of gratitude. We are choosing to focus on the negative and lose sight of the positive blessings in our life.
The Bible says, “Do everything without complaining so that you may be found blameless and pure children of God”
So how do we address this annoying habit and learn how to get along with difficult people who are complainers?
- Listen and try to steer conversations to the facts and in a positive direction.
- Redirect conversations that are characterized by complaining without a valid problem.
- Show empathy for the situation. Sometimes people want to be acknowledged, heard, and need help sorting through their circumstances.
- Don’t join or start corporate complaining.
#2 Dominators-Some people like to be in control and be the straw that stirs the drink. Sometimes it is easier to let someone else lead or control, but not always.
I worked with a guy who loved to dominate and control. After too many encounters feeling dejected, overwhelmed, and manipulated, I finally stood up for myself. I told him we could continue working on projects together if he spoke kindly and did not try to control my decisions. It took a lot of courage to deal with this difficult co-worker but this conversation permanently changed our relationship.
Here are some tips on how to get along with difficult people who are dominators.
- Set boundaries. You decide when to interact with them, where and for how long.
- Don’t let them control or abuse you. Learn to walk away.
- Don’t argue with them.
- Dominators are typically not good listeners so keep comments to a minimum.
- Be direct in asking what you need or want.
- Don’t avoid encounters if they need to happen; be prepared and try to control the environment.
#3 Prideful or Arrogant-When someone has an unbalanced need to project a strong and unquestionable self-image it is usually rooted in deep pain. Prideful people have a strong desire to always look good to others. One way to discover prideful behavior is when someone frequently shifts conversations back to themselves.
“Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom (wasted your wisdom) because of your splendor. I cast you to the ground.” Ezekiel 28:17 NIV
Here are a few tips on how to get along with difficult people who are prideful and arrogant.
- Don’t judge the person. Try to focus on the fact that pain may be driving the behavior.
- Ask genuine questions and be curious as to why certain things are so important to them.
- Lower expectations while keeping boundaries so you can love unconditionally as they work through their pride.
#4 Passive-Aggressive- There are distinct patterns in passive-aggressive behavior. When someone is agreeable at the moment but then puts you down later. When someone is cheerful towards you but then talks to others about you. A passive-aggressive person tends to withdraw when confronted, procrastinate and avoid conflict at all costs.
Here are some tips on how to get along with difficult people who are passive-aggressive.
- Reassure them that it is ok to express negative feelings in a healthy manner.
- Gently give feedback on inappropriate actions.
- Point out inconsistencies in actions and words.
- Reassure your love for them to lessen the fear of rejection.
Prayer is the best thing we can do when seeking how to get along with difficult people who display these characteristics or other behaviors.
When we pray for others it dismantles our irritation and helps us move toward loving them from a Godly perspective.
How to Get Along with Difficult People: 7 Biblical Ways
There are many strategies and tips on how to get along with difficult people. But as Christians, the bar is higher.
When we interact with others our mission is to demonstrate a new identity and a transformed life in Christ.
Football teams have to make adjustments in order to win. Sometimes teams make quick adjustments but often it is halftime before changes can be made. Sports experts report that teams capable of adjusting quickly and efficiently win more games.
An important point to remember when learning how to get along with difficult people is that the difficult behavior is the problem, not the person. However, if we don’t address difficult behavior, we will be labeled a “difficult person”.
Here are 7 things to avoid when embracing how to get along with difficult people in order to love them.
How to Get Along with Difficult People: 7 Things to Avoid
#1 Don’t take difficult people’s behavior personally
This is difficult at the moment because if a person is yelling at us then it is personal. However, if we try to learn about the person and understand what is causing or triggering the behavior, it can help us not take it personally. Usually, bad behavior is a reflection of our inner state that is expressed outwardly.
Recently I was in the grocery store and I asked an employee if they had fresh bread. The lady answered rudely as if I was making a crazy request.
After the encounter one of the managers, whom I knew, mentioned the employee was struggling with personal issues. I realized her response wasn’t about me at all, it was a reflection of her pain.
#2 Don’t try to change people
You can’t change people but you can change your response to difficult behavior. This is hard especially when a difficult person is close to us.
Even our children need to make the decision to change bad behavior. We can teach our kids how to turn annoying behaviors into positive traits. One of my children tends to be a little bossy, so we talk about pivoting from being the boss to becoming a strong leader.
Although we don’t usually have opportunities to discuss changing behavior with difficult people, we can pray for them.
#3 Don’t try to appease people
When a person is being difficult, they tend to have an insatiable appetite for more. Boundaries are important in all relationships but especially when someone is acting difficult.
When dealing with a difficult coworker, family member, or friend and they place unfair demands on us it can catch us off guard unsure of how to react.
If we pacify or comply with unrealistic and difficult demands, the situation can escalate and we can lose ourselves in the process.
#4 Don’t fight back.
When we fight back, it satisfies our flesh but can destroy our spirit. The angrier our thoughts the angrier we become which leads to a negative downward spiral.
When we respond emotionally, it can turn the conversation from a one-sided negative expression to the battle of 2 egos trying to prove, “who’s right?”
Usually, when someone has a chronic pattern of difficult behavior, they have perfected it and it is hard to ‘win’.
“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7
#5 Don’t hold a grudge.
When we react to negativity, it alters our inner peace. We have all been betrayed and rejected and it is hard to not hold bad behavior against someone especially if the acts are painful and reoccurring.
But if we hold a grudge and don’t let offenses go, bitterness takes root and erodes our faith and connection to God.
#6 Don’t waste too much energy on difficult situations and try to redirect.
Where our attention goes, energy follows and it tends to expand. We can only focus on so many things at a time.
Do we want to constantly focus on negativity? In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul teaches that we should take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
#7 Don’t talk about difficult people all of the time.
We love to talk about people who annoy us and get other people to agree and solidify our views. The more we talk about difficult people in a negative light the more the feelings of dislike and self-justification grow.
Proverb 13:3 says, “He who guards his lips guards his life but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”
These seven tips on what to avoid when dealing with difficult people help us overcome feeling overwhelmed by difficulty and guide us toward love.
How to Love Difficult People
Here are seven positive ways how to get along with difficult people so that conflict doesn’t cause anger, broken relationships, or spiritual fatigue.
Whether you are asking yourself how to deal with difficult co-workers or struggling with how to deal with difficult family members these seven tips on how to love difficult people can help.
How to Love Difficult People: 7 Ways
#1 Do allow people to express themselves in a healthy manner.
We don’t have to agree with everyone we meet or even love. Sometimes we just have to listen.
“Then they sat upon the ground with him silently for seven days and nights, no one speaking a word; for they saw that his suffering was too great for words” Job 2:13 TLB
#2 Do forgive.
Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew that we are to forgive 70×7 times. Forgiveness is not easy but it is a choice.
We may not feel like forgiving a difficult person who hurt us but in order to move past the offense and learn how to get along with difficult people, we must forgive.
“At that point, Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21-22 MSG
#3 Do ask, “Do I need to be involved?”
Human curiosity is a powerful force that leads to places we don’t need to go. When we pause and evaluate if we need to engage with a difficult person, we can often save ourselves from the stress of a negative situation.
The key here is boundaries and choosing to stay in our lane.
“Great blessings belong to those who don’t listen to evil advice, who don’t live like sinners… Instead, they love the Lord’s teachings and think about them day and night. So they grow strong.” Psalm 1:1-3 ERV
#4 Do imagine yourself in their shoes.
This goes back to not taking things personally. Look at the difficult person as a child of God and remember it’s not the person it’s the behavior. Find genuine appreciation for the person.
Some people have been through very difficult circumstances. If we understand their journey, we can have empathy.
In the gospel of Luke, Simon the Pharisee judges a sinful woman for coming into his house and anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. Jesus responds:
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair…Therefore her many sins have been forgiven…for she loved much.” Luke 7:44-47 NIV
#5 Do ask, “Do I need to respond or defend myself?”
Sometimes our best response is silence. We can write a letter that we don’t send or call out to God in prayer. Not responding is hard but a sign of spiritual maturity. Quiet humility often leads to peace.
“But I stand silently before the Lord, waiting for him to rescue me. For salvation comes from him alone.” Psalm 62:5 TLB
#6 Do look for lessons in the relationship.
Sometimes there is a hidden gift in conflict. We grow and learn things about ourselves and others as we work on how to get along with difficult people.
“We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” Romans 5:3-4 NIV
#7 Do choose to eliminate negative people from our lives.
We can’t totally eliminate all the difficult people we encounter but there are people who do not need to be a regular part of our lives; we can make the choice to walk away.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:17-19 NIV
How to Get Along With Difficult People by Faith
The first step in how to get along with difficult people is to identify the behavior that is causing our struggle and remember it is not the person but the behavior that is difficult.
Three more thoughts to remember:
- If we don’t learn how to get along with difficult people, it erodes our peace.
- If we don’t learn how to get along with difficult people we focus on the negative and tend to lose sight of our Godly purpose in life.
- If we don’t learn how to get along with difficult people, we begin to negatively react in unrelated situations.
In order to love difficult people, we can lean on our faith by praying, reading the Bible, and seeking wise counsel. The ultimate solution how to get along with difficult people is to find a way to love them, seek peace, and let our light shine for Christ.
What about you? Do you have suggestions on how to get along with difficult people from a biblical perspective?
Would love to hear from you in the comments.
Mary Rooney Armand
Mary is the creator and writer for the faith-based blog ButterflyLiving.org. Her writing is featured on multiple Christian websites. She is the author of the book, “Identity, Understanding, and Accepting Who I Am in Christ” and Life Changing Stories. a collaboration with 34 authors available on Amazon.