Ten Types of Difficult People



"If you want plenty of experience in dealing with difficult people, then have kids." — Bo Bennett

What if you had a playbook for dealing with the types of people you can’t stand?

What if there was a way to turn your enemies into allies?

What if you could find ways to deal with your own behavior that you can’t stand?

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.

Everybody is Somebody’s Difficult Person

Difficult people are all relative (not to be confused with difficult relatives, which is a whole other book.)

Via Dealing with People You Can’t Stand:

“There exist varying degrees of knowledge and ignorance in your repertoire of communication skills, with their consequent interpersonal strengths and weaknesses.

As a result, you may have no trouble at all dealing with that overly or non emotional person who no one else can stand.

You may have more difficulty with people who whine and are negative, or you may find dealing with aggressive people to be the most challenging.

Passive people may frustrate you, or you may have a low tolerance for braggarts and blowhards.

Likewise, you probably frustrate several people yourself, because everybody is somebody’s difficult person at least some of the time.”

The 10 Most Unwanted List

Brinkman and Kirschner identify 10 difficult behaviors that represent normal people at their worst:

The Four Intents

As a framework for understanding negative behavior, Brinkman and Kirschner identify four intents that can lead to conflict:

  1. Get the task done.
  2. Get the task right.
  3. Get along with people.
  4. Get appreciation from people.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • 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.

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  1. Great article, I wish there was a print Icon I was referred by my instructor for class, I myself have came across personalities mentioned on a audio cassette some time back, I deal with a few on ocassion, I have did research on some personalities that includes a disputed MPD (aka Multi personality disorder).

  2. @ Stephen — Thank you. I don’t have anything directly relevant, but I can work that into the mix for some future posts.

    I think the keys will be sharing some NLP basics, some key negotiation strategies and tactics, some common logic errors, as well as some effective questions. I think if folks know how influence and rapport work, they can better understand how not to fall for manipulation tactics.

  3. Thanks, JD.
    In this specific instance, the offending peerson goes behind the volunteer Board’s back to create side deals and sets them up so that it is too late for the Board to take counter action. Confronting him calmly with direct observations about his behavior and its — negative — consequences in terms of team-building has not altered his behavior. Board members have variously described him as “sneaky,” a “stealth bomber,” a “weasel,” and all the terms used in my initial question. As members of what is argely an “affiliative-based” organization, the Board members are reluctant to be accused of “not getting along.” (Another manipulative technique used by the power mongers in this group.)

    BTW — I’m a master-practitioner in neurolinguistics and have extensive experience in working with volunteer leaders. Yet, the solution to this one escapes me.

    Here to learn —


  4. @ Stephen — What I’ve seen is that weasels only survive in certain systems and organizational culture. The leaders naturally weed them out through values (not with words, but with actions over time.)

    When the weasel is strong, and they can operate in the system, then you can attempt to change the system that’s supporting them, but it’s an adaptive challenge, not a technical challenge, and it’s a process. You’re dealing with values. The book on this is Leadership on the Line.

    Meanwhile, you can level the playing field:
    – Out-maneuver the weasel until you can change the game.
    – Pair with your peers for power and influence in the system.
    – Setup processes and systems where it counts — codify good behavior.
    – Adjust your expectations, now that you see the weasel.
    – Recognize the possible values conflict you’re up against.

    When it comes to influence, character trumps emotion, trumps logic. So the key is to pair with the people that have power in the system, so at least you can mitigate issues or fend them off at the pass.

    Two people to draw from:
    – Dr. Rick – Dealing with People You Can’t Stand (Drkblog.com)
    – Dr. George Simon – Dealing with Manipulative People (www.manipulative-people.com)

  5. I like your site. Aside from being informative, I find your articles unique. This one is no different.

    It’s good to know how to handle difficult people because we all meet them in our lives. Knowing how to deal with them will spare us from stress. On the other hand, we may find a little of ourselves in these difficult people, too.

  6. @ Rosie — Thank you. I’m on a relentless pursuit of insight and action to help people get skills to pay the bills and lead a better life.

  7. The stealth bomber struck again. He initiated a conversation with a District leader without the knowledge of, or authorization by, the Board and then announced that he will let the rest of the Board have copy of his notes of that conversation in a few days. He added (rather ironically) that it the recommendations will take “a strong Board with all key positions filled for the coming year.” I question whether he even realizes that he is the cause of the organization’s dilemma.

    What most Board members — want is to eliminate the sub-rosa decision-making and manipulations that have been going on by this individual (and at least three of his “followers”) behind the scenes for at least a couple of years. However, they are reluctant to confront them so that they can avoid being faulted for “not getting along.” The immediate response from two Board members was that they plan to boycott the next Board meeting in protest over this man’s sabotaging of the Board’s authority. At least a couple are already “shopping around” for other organizations to join.

    It’s not possible to get them all together for more than three hours. I’ve tried it and done it. At that meeting many significant changes in systems, procedures, and operations were proposed and accepted — and then acted upon. However, at the meeting, the “manipulators” never revealed their true motives and the others never confronted or challenged their methods.

    The great, and grave, irony here is that the organization is a volunteer, hobby, men’s chorus that sings a cappella harmony. Now the chorus is inactive — primarily due to the administrative “dischord”!


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