10 Characteristics of a Difficult Person (Causes + Ways to Deal With Them)

Have you ever been stuck in a conversation where you felt like you had to be extra careful with your words, worried that one mistake could start a big argument? Or have you bumped into someone who can turn a friendly conversation into unnecessary drama?

If so, you’ve probably encountered a difficult person. These people can really push our limits, annoy us, and sometimes make us feel like we’re losing our minds.

But what exactly makes a person difficult? And how can knowing more about their characteristics help us deal with them better?

Tune in as we dig into the mindset of difficult people, find out what makes them this way, and explore ways to deal with them. This journey might even make you question some of your own behavior, leaving you wondering: Could I be a difficult person to someone else in my own way?

Let’s find out!

What Is a Difficult Person Like?

A difficult person is someone who often causes problems or behaves in ways that make people around them feel uncomfortable, stressed, or frustrated.

They might be that coworker who always complains about even the smallest things or that friend who somehow manages to turn a fun party into a big argument.

According to the Five Factor Model (FFM) or the Difficult Person Test, a difficult person can also be identified through certain personality traits.

  • The Five Factor Model measures openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, with difficult people usually scoring low on agreeableness.
  • The Difficult Person Test involves assessing characteristics such as callousness, grandiosity, aggressiveness, suspicion, manipulativeness, dominance, and risk-taking.

But let’s be clear: this isn’t about pointing fingers or placing blame. The term ‘difficult’ can mean different things to different people based on their own views, culture, and the situation they’re in. What’s troublesome for one person might be tolerable or even amusing for another.

As we proceed, remember that our goal is not to criticize or pass judgment. Instead, we want to understand, show some compassion, and ultimately learn how to get along better with people who might be a little harder to deal with.

So, shall we dive in and learn more?

Why Some People Are Difficult: Root Causes of Difficult Behavior

It’s important to keep in mind that difficult people aren’t usually just difficult for no reason; their hard-to-deal-with behavior often comes from deeper issues.

Maybe they’ve had some rough experiences in the past, or maybe they’re feeling insecure. Or it could be they’ve gotten used to acting this way, and no one’s told them it’s not okay. If we understand where they’re coming from, we can respond with kindness instead of getting defensive.

In this section, we’ll discuss two primary factors that contribute to difficult behavior: personal factors and environmental factors.

Personal Factors

Sometimes, people may exhibit challenging behavior for reasons that are a part of who they are. These reasons can be tied to their personality or because of issues related to their mental health. For example, some people might have a personality disorder that makes them act in a challenging way.

A few personal factors that can lead to difficult behavior include:

  1. Poor communication skills: Some individuals find it hard to put into words what they want or need. It can even be tough for them to figure out their own feelings and worries. When people can’t explain themselves well, it’s easy for others to get confused and annoyed.
  2. Maladaptive coping mechanisms: We all have ways of handling stress and bad situations. Unfortunately, some people fall into unhealthy habits when things get tough. These habits can make them act difficult and can be annoying or hard to deal with.
  3. Personality traits: Certain traits, such as low agreeableness (having a harder time getting along with others) or high neuroticism (responding poorly to environmental stress), can make people more challenging to interact with.

Environmental Factors

Sometimes, difficult behavior can be triggered or made worse by external circumstances. Here are a few environmental factors that might play a part:

  • Stressful situations: High-stress environments can bring out the worst in people, causing them to lash out or behave in unusual ways.
  • Lack of support: If someone doesn’t have enough support system or people to lean on, they might feel isolated and overwhelmed, leading to difficult behavior.
  • Negative influences: Exposure to unhealthy relationships or environments can also encourage challenging behavior patterns.

It’s good to remember that everyone can have tough days, but if these behaviors become a habit, it’s important to seek help and try to understand why.

In your interactions with difficult people, remember the wise words of author Stephen Covey:

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Now that we’ve uncovered the root causes of their complex behavior, we can start piecing together a clearer picture. Let’s now proceed to uncover the common characteristics of a difficult person.

Common Characteristics of a Difficult Person

1. They Are Always Negative

You might have come across people who are often hard to get along with because they seem to always have a cloud of negativity hanging over them. This means they often look at the glass as half empty, not half full.

They seem to have a gloomy view of the world, with a tendency to focus on the worst parts of any situation while brushing aside any silver linings. Interacting with them can be a bit of a challenge because their negativity can feel like a heavyweight, potentially dragging down your own mood.

These people often show habits like always complaining, always finding faults, and passing judgment, which can make it hard for anyone to make them happy. Plus, their negative biases can cause them to hold on to bad first impressions or past traumas, which can impact their overall mental well-being.

How to deal with consistently negative people:

  1. Establish boundaries to keep their negativity from spilling too much into your personal space.
  2. Try to listen to them actively and empathize with their feelings. This can make them feel understood and less alone in their struggles.
  3. Try to give them positive feedback when you can, but remember to keep it real. Overdoing it might come off as insincere.

2. They Struggle to Communicate Clearly

Difficult people often have trouble communicating well with others. They do things that can make it hard for people to get their message across.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • They don’t listen when others are talking. It’s like they’re in their own world, not really hearing what you’re saying.
  • They use big blanket statements. That’s when someone says something like “you always” or “you never,” making generalizations that might not be fair or accurate.
  • They jump to conclusions. They think they know what you mean without asking you to explain more.
Here's a situation that can help illustrate this: Imagine you're at work, and you're trying to tell a difficult person about a problem you're having. But before you can finish, they cut you off and start suggesting how to fix it. They didn't even take the time to understand the whole issue! This can cause more problems and can make communication fall apart.

How to deal with people who often struggle with good communication:

  1. Make sure you’re fully engaged in the conversation. Show them that you’re listening and that you understand what they’re saying. This might encourage them to do the same when it’s your turn to speak.
  2. If they tend to jump to conclusions or misunderstand, make your message as clear and simple as possible. Avoid using jargon or complex language that might confuse them.
  3. Politely let them know if they’ve interrupted you and that you’d like to finish your point before they respond.

3. They Often Start Arguments

If you’ve ever had to deal with someone who just loves to argue, you know how tiring it can be. These kinds of people often seem to thrive on disagreement, and it can feel like they’re turning every conversation into a battleground, draining those around them.

Picture this: you’re at a family dinner, just trying to have a good time. But then there’s that one family member who seems to enjoy making a big deal out of small things. Maybe they start a big debate about which movie is the best or argue about the ideal vacation destination. These arguments can change a nice family meal into a tense and tiresome ordeal.

How to handle people who love to argue:

  1. Don’t let your feelings get the better of you. Even when the other person is being confrontational, keep your cool.
  2. Don’t let them walk all over you. Stand up for yourself but remember, there’s a difference between being assertive and aggressive.
  3. Try to turn the conversation in a more positive direction. Look for things you both agree on and steer the conversation toward those. It’s all about creating a conversation that’s beneficial to both sides.

4. They Make Unreasonable Requests

A difficult person generally tends to make unreasonable demands that can put you in tricky situations. They might ask you to do things that are beyond your capacity or that seem irrational or unnecessary.

There are a couple of reasons why they do this:

  • They have unrealistic expectations: Sometimes, they’re so caught up in their own wants and needs that they forget about the reality of what they’re asking for. They might not understand or care how hard it is for you to meet their high demands because they’re too focused on themselves.
  • They want to be in control: By asking for things that don’t make sense, they might be trying to manipulate or control your behavior and your reactions.

Imagine if your partner expects you to be there for them every minute of every day, requiring you to respond to their calls or texts right away, regardless of what you’re up to. This kind of demand ignores your need for personal time and space. It’s a sign of their sky-high expectations, but it could also be a way for them to try to dictate your daily activities and interactions.

How to help manage the situation:

  1. Clearly outline what you can and can’t do. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when their demands go beyond your comfort zone.
  2. Talk to them about how their demands are affecting you. Show empathy, but also make it clear that a compromise needs to be reached for the relationship to work.

5. They Get Emotional Easily

If you or someone you know tends to feel emotions very deeply and reacts strongly to situations, even those that might seem small or unimportant, then you’ve got firsthand experience with high emotional reactivity.

It’s a bit like having the volume turned up too high on your feelings – a small nudge can sometimes feel like a push. This can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and arguments, both at home and at work.

Let’s try to better understand what’s happening by breaking down some of the common signs of emotional reactivity:

Taking Offense EasilyEmotionally reactive people may interpret innocent remarks as hurtful. It’s like seeing shadows in the dark – they feel under attack or criticized even when that’s not the case. As a result, they may become upset and bear grudges more easily.
Struggling to Calm DownA common sign of emotional reactivity is having difficulty in calming down after an emotional outburst. Even when they acknowledge that their reaction is extreme, they may find it challenging to soothe themselves and return to a normal state.
Extreme Emotional ReactionsEmotionally reactive people might show excessive anger, sadness, or anxiety in response to situations that don’t typically call for such intense emotions. It’s like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly – the reaction doesn’t match the situation.
(Reference: Emotionally Reactive People Display These 7 Behaviors And Don’t Realize It)

To better cope with emotionally reactive people or understand your own emotional reactivity, here are some tips that could help:

  1. Develop self-awareness: Watch how you respond emotionally to different situations and see if you can spot what sets off these big reactions – we call these ‘triggers.’ By getting to know these patterns better, you’re one step closer to changing them.
  2. Practice mindful communication: Make an effort to stay present and actively listen during conversations. This can help you avoid jumping to conclusions or reacting on a whim.
  3. Seek professional help: If emotional reactivity is causing a lot of stress or problems in your life, reaching out to a mental health professional might be helpful. They can offer effective coping strategies to handle these big feelings better.

6. They Don’t Listen Well

One common characteristic of a difficult person is their inability to truly listen to others. Imagine you’re talking to someone, and instead of listening to you, they’re either busy thinking about their own reply or just plain ignoring your words.

Why does this happen? Here are a couple of possible reasons:

  • They’re quickly hurt or upset by criticism, which makes them defensive. When they’re busy defending themselves, they’re not really focusing on what you’re trying to say.
  • They think they’re smarter or better than others, or they believe that their own view of things is the only one that counts.

One more issue that often comes up with hard-to-deal-with people is that they can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes. In other words, they lack empathy. They might even ignore other people’s problems or experiences completely.

Here are ways to deal with people who don’t listen well:

  1. Use easy words and short sentences. This can help make sure the person understands what you are saying and doesn’t get confused.
  2. Let them know you understand their point of view before you start talking about yours. This might make them more open to hearing what you have to say. Use phrases like “I get what you’re saying, but what if we…” or “That makes sense, have you thought about…”. This can help them listen better.

7. They Constantly Criticize Others

Dealing with people who continuously find fault in others can be emotionally exhausting and create tension in relationships. They often have a delicate ego and may criticize others as a way to defend themselves from perceived threats.

Remember, not all criticism is bad; it can be beneficial if done in a constructive and respectful way. Recognizing excessive criticism and addressing it properly can improve your interactions with difficult people, making life easier for everyone involved.

Bear in mind: Criticism in personal relationships can start off subtly and escalates over time, leading to a cycle of growing resentment.

(Reference: What's Wrong with Criticism)

How to handle people who constantly criticize others:

  1. If someone’s constant criticism is getting to you, it’s okay to step back. Spend some time away from them so you can recharge and manage your feelings.
  2. Don’t be afraid to voice your feelings. Let the person know how their criticism affects you. Keep it simple and honest, and you might just help them see things from your perspective.

8. They Have a Strong Need to Control Things

Controlling people often have a strong desire to be in charge of situations and, sometimes, the people around them. Here are some things you might notice about people who have control issues:

  • They always want to correct others: These people often feel they need to fix others when they think they’re wrong, even if it’s something small.
  • They can’t admit when they’re wrong: People who like to control things find it hard to say they made a mistake. They might be scared or just too proud.
  • They micromanage: They try to control every little part of a situation. This can make others feel frustrated or stressed.

Here are a few tips on dealing with someone who has control issues:

  1. Explain your limits and what you’re comfortable with. It’s okay to say no to them when they’re overstepping. Stand your ground while being respectful.
  2. Speak up about your feelings without blaming or criticizing them. Say something like “I feel stressed when you…” to express your concerns without making them feel attacked.
  3. If their controlling behavior becomes too overwhelming, consider reaching out to a counselor or mental health professional. They can provide useful strategies to manage the situation better.

9. They Are Often Passive-Aggressive

Being passive-aggressive means expressing negative feelings or disagreements in an indirect way rather than stating them directly. People who act passive-aggressively may seem harmless or neutral, but they are actually showing an unconscious aggressive motive.

It can be difficult to deal with a passive-aggressive person, as their actions and communication style can make it hard to figure out what they really mean.

Typical examples of passive-aggressive behavior are:

  • Procrastination or doing tasks badly on purpose.
  • Compliments that are actually insults or sarcastic remarks.
  • Giving the silent treatment.
  • Forgetting things intentionally or neglecting responsibilities.
  • Avoiding issues or being evasive.

To deal with a passive-aggressive person, you need to know the signs and confront the problem head-on. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Avoid answering back with aggressive behavior, which might only make the situation worse.
  2. Promote honest discussion. Encourage an environment where people can have open and truthful conversations. This may help the passive-aggressive person to express their real feelings.
  3. Discuss the exact issue. Instead of making general accusations, highlight the specific action or comment that caused the problem and express how it made you feel.

10. They Are Resistant to Change

Some people find it really hard to deal with changes. They prefer to keep things just as they are, and find it tough to accept new ways of thinking, behaving, or doing things. This resistance can manifest itself in various ways, such as fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, and even depression.

(Reference: What Does Resistance to Change Look Like?)

Now, why do some people struggle with change? Let’s look at a few reasons:

  • They’re afraid of the unknown: If they can’t predict what’s going to happen next, they might choose to stay in their comfort zone.
  • They feel they’re losing control: Change can mean giving up some power or control, and this can be hard for some people.
  • They worry about the impact: They might believe that the change could bring harm to them or the people they care about.

If you want to help someone become more comfortable with change, you’ll need to address their worries, show them you’re there to support them, and explain why change is necessary and can be beneficial.

Here are some tips to help someone resistant to change:

  • Talk about the reasons for the change and make sure they understand how it can benefit them.
  • Show them you understand their concerns and feelings.
  • Include them in the decision-making process, giving them a chance to influence the changes.
  • Provide them with resources and support to help them adjust to the new situation.
Here's a practical example: Imagine you're a manager in an office where a new software is about to be implemented. Bob, a long-standing employee, is used to the old software and is resistant to this change. He's afraid he won't be able to learn the new system and it'll affect his job performance. 

As a manager, you can address Bob's concerns by explaining how the new software will actually make tasks easier and more efficient once he gets the hang of it. You can also arrange additional training sessions and assure Bob that his initial struggles are completely normal and part of the learning process.

How To Handle Difficult People

In addition to the methods for dealing with difficult people we’ve already discussed, here are more strategies to make your interactions smoother and less stressful.

Making Your Boundaries Clear

It’s important to set boundaries when dealing with difficult people for your own peace of mind. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Let them know what you expect and what you need from them.
  • Speak up for yourself, but do it in a respectful way.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no when you need to.
  • Don’t compromise your boundaries just to avoid conflict or to make others happy.

A well-known quote by Brene Brown demonstrates the importance of setting boundaries:

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

Communicating Effectively

Good communication can ease tensions and make dealing with difficult people a lot easier. Here are a few strategies:

  • Listen actively: Make sure you understand what the other person is saying before you respond. It shows that you value their thoughts and can help prevent arguments.
  • Use “I” statements: This allows you to express your thoughts without sounding like you’re blaming the other person. So, instead of saying, “You make me feel…,” you can say, “I feel that….”
  • Stay calm: Even if things get heated, keeping your calm can stop the situation from getting worse.
For instance, you might say, "I understand that you don't agree with my decision, but I'd appreciate it if we could talk about this calmly."

Resolving Conflicts

Knowing how to handle conflicts is crucial when you’re dealing with difficult people. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Find common ground: Try to identify things that you both agree on and start from there.
  • Focus on the issue, not the person: Talk about the specific problems and behaviors instead of attacking or blaming the person.
  • Compromise when you canConflict resolution isn’t about who’s right or wrong but about finding a solution that works for everyone.

Seeking Help from Others

Dealing with difficult people can be tough, and sometimes you might need help. You can turn to your friends, family, or coworkers. Here’s what you can do:

  • Share your feelings: Talking about your experiences, feelings, and frustrations can help you feel better.
  • Ask for advice: Different perspectives can help you understand and manage difficult situations better.
  • Learn from others: Reflect on how other people have handled difficult people in their lives and try their techniques.

Getting Professional Help

If your interactions with a difficult person are affecting your mental health, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Mental health professionals can give you the tools to manage stress and guide you through effective methods of self-care.

Here are some different resources available:

  • Therapists or counselors: They can help you build healthy coping mechanisms and provide emotional support.
  • Support groups: Being in a group with people who are going through similar things can help you feel less alone.
  • Online resources: Websites and articles about mental health can offer techniques and tips for dealing with difficult relationships and maintaining self-care.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a difficult person change their characteristics over time?

Yes, a difficult person can change their characteristics over time, although it often requires a conscious effort on their part.

This change may occur due to personal growth, therapy, self-awareness, or experiences that prompt them to alter their behavior. It is important to remember that change is a process that takes time and patience.

What should one avoid doing when dealing with a difficult person?

When dealing with a difficult person, it’s crucial to avoid certain reactions that might exacerbate the situation:

Don’t take it personally: Their behavior is about them, not you. Keeping this perspective can help maintain your calm.

Avoid gossip: This might escalate the situation and cause more harm than good. Try to address issues directly with the person involved or speak with a supervisor if needed.

Don’t mirror their behavior: Responding in a similar negative manner can contribute to a toxic environment. Aim for respectful communication, even when it’s challenging.

Don’t ignore the issue: Avoidance doesn’t usually resolve the problem. It’s better to address the issue proactively, with tact and professionalism.

How does one differentiate between a difficult person and someone just having a bad day?

Distinguishing between a difficult person and someone simply having a bad day can be a matter of identifying patterns over time.

Someone having a bad day may exhibit some challenging behavior due to temporary stress or frustration. However, they typically return to a more balanced behavior once the stressful situation has passed.

On the other hand, a difficult person consistently exhibits challenging behaviors, irrespective of the circumstances. They often create a pattern of disruption, negativity, or conflict that remains unchanged over time. It’s important to observe behavior over a period of time to differentiate between the two situations accurately.


In conclusion, difficult people typically show characteristics that can make interpersonal relationships challenging. They often act self-centered, exhibit negative attitudes, resist change, and may be excessively critical or argumentative.

However, it’s important to remember that understanding these traits can be the first step towards managing such relationships effectively.

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Difficult people are often self-centered: Their interests and needs take priority, leaving others feeling undervalued or ignored.
  • They may display negative attitudes: This negativity can be draining and create a hostile environment.
  • These individuals often resist change: They stick to their old ways, and this rigidity can hinder growth and self-development.
  • They can be excessively critical or argumentative: This can lead to destructive conflict instead of productive discussions.

In addition, setting clear boundaries, resolving conflicts, and effective communication are valuable strategies when dealing with difficult people.

As we remember that everyone has their own battles to fight, it encourages us to approach situations with more compassion. Although this doesn’t justify or excuse inappropriate behavior, it gives a broader perspective and helps us understand how to handle these situations better.

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Leah Bayubay

Leah is a creative soul with a passion for telling stories that matter. As an editor and writer at UpJourney, she channels her natural curiosity and imagination into thought-provoking articles and inspiring content. She is also a registered nurse dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact.

In her free time, she indulges her artistic side as a hobbyist photographer, capturing the world's beauty one shot at a time. You can also find her in a poor-lit room playing her favorite video games or in a corner somewhere, reading and immersing herself in the rich worlds of fantasy and dark academia.

At home, Leah is surrounded by love and laughter, living peacefully with her partner and their three adorable shih tzus.