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Difficult People

Difficult Peopleby Marty Johnson


I’ve been writing a bit lately about “the bubble”—that place so many people exist in that’s closed off to so much that is going on around them. It’s been on my mind a lot and I guess I’m just still trying to sort out frustrations I’ve had with so many in my circles lately, and in our society as a whole, who have let the divisiveness of our current political and social climate creep into their lives in so many other areas, putting up walls of opinion instead of putting out hands of friendship.

In traveling a lot lately with my new post-retirement consulting career, I’ve found it fascinating to observe behavior and priorities in different parts of the country. So many people are stuck in their own zone and have no idea the richness that is out there in other zones. Because they don’t make an effort to get out of their bubble and open themselves up to the beauty surrounding them in the rest of the world, they close themselves off to so much abundance and joy that they could experience if they thought about others just as much as they thought about themselves.


I’ve been trying to get my thoughts together on this, frustrated with difficult people I encounter and try my best to navigate on a daily basis. Then recently, I stumbled upon Dealing with Difficult People by Roy Lilley. I’m only into it as far as the introductory chapters so far, but want to read more when I can. Even those first few chapters though capture how I feel much more concisely and thoughtfully than I could. So, I’d like to share some gems from them here, and follow them up with some thoughts of my own…


Gems from the first few chapters of Dealing with Difficult People by Roy Lilley:

  • The six most important words: I admit I made a mistake

The five most important words: You did a good job

The four most important words: What is your opinion?

The three most important words: Would you mind?

The two most important words: Thank you

The one most important words: We

The least important word: I

  • Nice people are not always like you. They will have different backgrounds, educations, life experiences, and perspectives. They will be motivated differently, think differently, and reason differently. But they still can be nice people.

  • Difficult people are most often selfish and inwardly-focused. For them, it’s all about them, so don’t let them get under your skin. The number one rule in dealing with difficult people is to not take it personally. This doesn’t mean you let a rude pig trample all over you, but it does mean you don’t have to get in a bare-knuckle fight.

  • How we treat each other is largely a product of how we feel about each other.

  • Difficult people are predictable people. They are stuck in their ways and all you have to do is maneuver around them, using your brain and not your emotions.

  • Some difficult people can be hostile, aggressive, belligerent, and offensive—bullies and control freaks, of which there are three basic types: the Sherman tanks, the snipers, and the exploders.

  • The Sherman tanks come out charging. They are abusive, abrupt, intimidating, and overwhelming. They attack individual behaviors and personal characteristics. They bombard you with criticisms and arguments. They usually achieve their short-term objectives, but at the cost of eroded friendships and lost long-term relationships. They have a strong need to prove to others that their view of the world is right. They have a strong sense of how others should act, and they are not afraid to tell them about it.

  • The snipers prefer a more covered approach. They put up a front of friendliness from behind which they attack, often with pot-shots and veiled innuendos and not-so-subtle digs. They often make others look bad in order to try to make themselves look good. They pair their verbal missiles with covers of friendliness.

  • The exploders are characterized by fits of rage-fueled attacks and tantrums that seem barely under control. They react first in anger, followed by either blaming or suspicion.

  • Often, difficult people are complainers, moaners, and groaners, finding fault in everything. They rarely want to find a way to fix the problems they complain about.

  • Difficult people can be know-alls, with an overwhelming need to be recognized for their intellectual abilities. They can promote feelings of anger or resentment in others. They often suffer from lack of self-importance. They can be bullies and appear so certain that they are right that it seems pointless to argue.


And my thoughts from before and after reading the first bit of Roy’s book:

  • Difficult people are often ignorant people. They haven’t given themselves the gift of leaving their safe zone and understanding how the other half lives, thinks, loves, believes, perceives, worships, gives, creates, and exists.

  • Difficult people are often self-righteous people. They often wear the t-shirts and fly the flags and share the memes and post the missives to make it clear what they believe, thinking that blasting their beliefs to others is somehow helping others, when in fact it’s only furthering division. They are not inclusive in their thinking or outreach.   

  • Difficult people are often contentious people. They always want to argue and try to prove their point, even when they know they’re wrong.

  • Difficult people are often defensive people, especially when, deep down, they know they’ve made a mistake or said something they should regret. Instead of apologizing and being humble, they double down and over-share things that their confirmation bias tells them enforces their position.

  • Difficult people are often deflective people. They blame others for everything, living in a victim mindset. They put others down in order to make themselves feel better.

  • Difficult people are often closed-minded. They don’t want to hear what others think about a subject, already deciding in their minds that, in order for them to be right, everyone else must be wrong.

  • Difficult people often don’t accept gray areas. As I tried to dig into in my essay “Good-Neighborliness,” gray areas are essential to living a happy and peaceable life, but difficult people feel the need to define everything as black and white or right and wrong.


As I write this, I’m on a flight. And, as I often do, I’m observing people and their behaviors. Most people, per usual, are not difficult. In a big metal tube, humans have an incredible ability to forgo their usual personal space issues and exude kindness and empathy to their fellow passengers. But, not all…


The man next to me, currently covered from head to knee in a fleece blanket while his arm continuously rubs up against my own, despite me trying to sit as tightly centered as I can in my own seat, held up the entire plane because he didn’t prepare his carry-ons before boarding. He waited until he got to the seat before he had to get organized, open his suitcase, take out aforementioned fleece blanket, and then proceeded to store his suitcase in an overhead bin behind our seat instead of the one with room above it, guaranteeing more disruption when we de-plane and he must go backwards in the aisle while everyone else is trying to go forward.


Difficult people come in all forms. Most are just simply selfish and/or quite self-unaware. They usually have no clear perception of how ignorant, self-righteous, contentious, defensive, deflective, and closed-minded they can be.


And, you know what? That’s life. That’s humanity. Difficult people will always exist. We can’t let them bring us down. We can’t pander to them, encourage their bad behaviors, or feed their nonsense. We absolutely must rise above, be as kind as we can but also not let ourselves go down the spiral of negativity that they’ve fallen into.


One of my favorite quotes is from Carlos Dominguez: "The only thing we can do about awful people is not be one of them." I'll substitute two words in there to have it say, "The best thing we can do about difficult people is not be one of them."

Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty

Article written June 8, 2024, for co-publication on the and blogs.



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