Difficult people: how to measure our response

We’ve all met them. Those people who just rub us up the wrong way, who have an opinion on everything, think they’re always right…you know the type? Difficult people. It seems today, more than maybe ever, we are faced with situations that require us to respond to people that we just would rather not have to. Social media has opened up the world to people in a massive way. We can connect with people from all over the globe in a variety of means and interact with those we admire. A celebrity used to be someone who was held on a pedestal of glamour and mystique. And to a certain extent that remains the case. But now that we have so much access into their lives, they have lost some of it. Now, don’t think that I’m lamenting the bygone eras of Hollywood and misplaced fan worship. Certainly not. What I’m noting, with this lowered barrier, is that we now think that we somehow have the right to comment on their lives, to give our opinions, and to say things that we would never say to their face.

We’ve all been there!

As you will know, this is not restricted to the world of fame. We will all have dealt with difficult people who believe it their right to vomit forth their unkind and antagonistic views. People who have to get their tuppence worth in. Likewise, in our day-to-day lives, we will encounter people at work, in the street, in our own family, who are predisposed to be difficult people. Now we can focus on their many characteristics that frustrate us and react in a similar fashion, or we can learn to measure our response and disarm the situation. It could just be the very thing that catches them off guard. But whether or not it does, you will not disturb your inner calm, you will show wisdom and maturity, and douse the threatening flames of anarchy.

Softly, softly

King Solomon, found in many religious texts like the Bible and the Quran, is widely acknowledged as the wisest man to have ever lived. He wrote the book of Proverbs, a book in the Old Testament where a wealth of wise words can be found. Consider these words:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Proverbs 15:1-2 esv

The proverb speaks for itself. When we are faced with difficult people, when we are hurt, annoyed, or stirred to anger, we should respond with calm, soft words. It disarms the anger of the person, turns it back upon themselves, and extinguishes what could become a volatile and hateful episode. However, I am all too well aware that this is no easy task at times. Our natural response is to even the scales, to stab back with equal venom, to be equally difficult within the situation. We feel put out, affronted, frustrated, angry…you pick the word that best fits!

So how do we learn the ‘softly, softly’ approach? Well, it takes practice. It takes perseverance. But above all, it takes a conscious choice that we will not respond in anger. You won’t always manage it, you’re only human after all. But eventually you will develop a habit, a new behaviour response, and your overall wellbeing will be calmer, more gentle, more kind.

A way forward into wisdom

Here’s some more words of wisdom to inspire you:

Patient people have great understanding, but people with quick tempers show their foolishness.

Proverbs 14:29 NCV

Losing your temper causes a lot of trouble, but staying calm settles arguments.

Proverbs 15:18 CEV

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

James 1:19 NIV
difficult people. proverbs. be kind.
Image by AgnieszkaMonk from Pixabay

If we are to be able to respond in a measured way, to calm the situation rather than inflame it further, we must first look to ourselves. Change starts at home, right? I was reading my daily devotional on my Daily Hope App from Pastor Rick Warren this past weekend. It was speaking about just this subject of how we respond to people, focusing specifically upon ourselves. When we are angry we lash out. It’s a fast and unmeasured response that will inflict unknown harm. Rick Warren suggests following what it says above in James 1:19. Normally we, in our haste to respond to whatever the difficult person has done against us, do the opposite. We’re slow to listen, quick to speak, and readily become angry. But if we put those three things in their correct order, to listen first, then slowly respond with words, you will naturally find you are not that angry by the end of it. The more you consciously exercise this principle, the calmer you will find your response is to difficult people and situations.


This measured response is taken further by Rick Warren by using the acronym T.H.I.N.K. It’s such a brilliant way to remind ourselves to think before we act.

T: Is it truthful?

Is what I’m about to say the truth? Or do I hurl untruths and hateful words out of spite and anger?

We must be careful not to be slanderous when we are feeling angry and upset. When difficult people provoke us we want to hit back and hurt them as they did us. But we can often exaggerate, or even invent things about them in our anger, causing pain on a much greater scale. So think very carefully before you speak, that it be truthful.

H: Is it helpful?

Or will it simply harm the other person?

Are my words conducive to resolving the situation, or is their only purpose to cause damage? If we are to learn to be measured and in control with difficult people, we must make sure that whatever we say is helpful to resolving the situation. Cheap words thrown idly clutter the air. Choose words that will bring resolution.

I: Is it inspirational?

Does it build up, or does it tear down?

Instead of responding in anger and frustration, look for a way to bring words of inspiration. Often difficult people are disarmed when we speak in compliments. When we choose to build people up and encourage them, we not only buoy them on and take ourselves out of the situation, but we feel the benefits of those inspirational words too. Instead of focussing on dragging yourself down to their level, bring them up to yours.

N: Is it necessary?

If it’s not necessary, why do we need to say it?

All of these things above come into this single point. Is it necessary? Is it ever really necessary? If your words do not build up, are not helpful and do not bear the truth, why are you even saying them? To make yourself feel better? I doubt it. Whenever I’ve responded in anger I’ve always felt terrible afterwards. So if we cannot say anything that benefits the situation, don’t say it.

K: Is it kind?

Will it encourage or discourage?

In a world where you can be anything, be kind. Caroline Flack wrote those words on her Instagram feed during a time when she was being barraged by unkindness from people who had no authority to do so. If we cannot open our mouths, or type words of kindness, we shouldn’t say them at all. We have no idea the things that people go through every day, the hurts they carry, the worries. So if they appear to be difficult, do something that irritates us, or say something that we disagree with, just remember…you are not them. So don’t judge and don’t respond in anger. Be kind.

Slow down

When we slow down and take a more measured approach to difficult people, we learn to be better versions of ourselves. When we calm our response, and really think, we will find that we are better able to find a resolution, to bring peace to conflict, and disarm the behaviour of the other person. By not rising to the bate, by initiating level discourse, you will more than likely find a better way to cope that brings an outcome with everyone in mind.

If all else fails, walk away. Remove yourself from the situation that is going to cause strife and you stop it from escalating. You are not required to tolerate another’s hate or pernicious behaviour. Wish them well, and move on.

Get in touch!

Please get in touch in the comments below with your experiences on dealing with difficult people. Have you been hurt by someone’s angry response, or were you the one to respond in anger? We can all learn from each other, so please share!

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