Sunethra Jayaratne Nugawela looks at the art of dealing with difficult people

People are in our lives from birth to death. Some are truly amazing, but some can be difficult to deal with. To succeed in our lives and especially in our careers, we need to know the art of dealing with difficult people.

Acknowledging the Situation

We cannot change someone overnight. A person who is difficult to deal with does not suddenly become a friend. In these situations, the best remedy is to change ourselves, our behaviours and our reactions to counteract them, even temporarily. Some people seem to enjoy antagonizing others. We need to rise above that, and not deviate from our principles, rules and regulations. Our image, identity and integrity amount to our professionalism. Therefore, let’s take time before we respond to work out solutions.

Anger is natural and a justified emotion. There is nothing wrong with getting angry with difficult people; it is better than bottling it up inside. However, we must master and practice anger management techniques to enjoy a long and healthy life and to make our environment pleasant and peaceful.

Types of Difficult Behaviour


Aggressive people enjoy the feeling of power that they have and enjoy bullying others to get their way. The best remedy is to avoid them, so they feel isolated. Being calm will also be to our advantage. With self-control, we will be more effective in managing the situation. Managing aggressive people wisely demonstrates emotional intelligence.


This is totally the opposite side of aggressive behaviour. These types of people sacrifice their own needs for others. They tend to be negative and lack self-esteem and can bring you down to their level. The best advice when dealing with submissive people is to maintain your own high self-esteem, confidence and cool.

Assertive Behaviour

This is a good characteristic to have in life. These types of people develop themselves and others too. They respect others and realize their needs. They want a solution where everyone benefits. When dealing with assertive people, do not hesitate to be frank and open, as they value such behaviour. Respect for assertive people is important, as they will reciprocate.

The Warmth of Criticism

Those who are aspiring to be real and genuine, to be exceptional and shine, extend a warm welcome to criticism. It is an essential requirement to develop and sustain a career. Criticism can be fair or unfair. Hold on to whatever is constructive; drop that which is not relevant. Constructive criticism is needed for self-development. Do not compare; instead, listen carefully, and examine the pros and cons. What matters is what is said and not who said it.

Professional, career-minded individuals believe that criticism is part of life. We will face many situations where criticism is levelled at us, so be strong, keep smiling and stand above the rest. Make every action count. Let everything that happens be a blessing!

Learning to Say No

Many people have an issue saying no. Sri Lanka and the Asian region possess cultures where we do not want to offend people with “no.” However, it is important in our careers to adopt and practice “no.” If not, we invite problems in both the short and long term. There are many ways to say no. Assertiveness is handy in these circumstances, and we must not feel guilty about it. It is a matter of explanation of refusal rather than an excuse.

Dealing with difficult people makes us stronger: We become more purposeful, analytical, perseverant and persistent. We become outstanding with characteristics of self-esteem, patience, empathy, listening, assertiveness, flexibility and directness.

People can be difficult to deal with, but we can learn to deal with different situations wisely, with a positive mindset, thinking and moving through encumbrances, barriers and struggles.

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Dr Sunethra Jayaratne Nugawela is the Chairperson and Executive Director of the Academy for Administrative Professionals in Sri Lanka. She is an entrepreneur with a diverse conglomerate of businesses, a visiting lecturer, and a practising Assistant. Her ... (Read More)

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