7 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

How to Deal with difficult people

Dealing with difficult people is something everyone faces. We all have someone who is, well, difficult. Rick Warren coined it best when he referred to difficult people as “extra grace required” people.

Knowing someone difficult is easy. Dealing with difficult people is the hard part. The worst part is the dread that precedes any gathering where your difficult person will be present.

Difficult people can be critical, with negative comments directed at you. It may be someone who is demanding, insisting things be done a certain way (AKA their way). Maybe, you have a difficult person in your life who is manipulative or controlling. Whatever challenge comes with your difficult person, keep these 3 truths about God in mind.

3 Truths About God When Dealing with Difficult People

1. God is in control.

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” ~Psalm 103:19

If we truly believe He made us, can redeem us and usher us into glory, then He must be able to direct people in or away from our life, right?

Have you considered God allowed or ordained this difficult person into your life?

2. God is purposeful.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” ~Romans 8:28

Nothing in God’s economy is wasted according to Romans 8:28. This is an incredible promise to believers. Especially when dealing with difficult people. “All things”, includes relationships.

God actually uses the relationships in our life to refine us. We’re like fine grit sandpaper rubbing the rough edges down to a smoother surface. It’s true, some of us have rougher edges than others, but it’s still God’s purpose that prevails.

3. God is love.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” ~1 John 4:8

God loves all of His creation, even the difficult ones:) His purpose to refine us is done out of love for us. He saves us just as we are, but has no intention of leaving us this way.

Remember, there are 2 hearts in every relationship, even difficult ones, that God is invested in.

When dealing with difficult people, keep your eyes on God. The 3 truths about God help me keep my eyes on him and off myself. Those times I’m dealing with difficult people I’m tempted to set my eyes on myself, my experience and my feelings. This is when all compassion and love flies right out the window!

Keep your gaze on Christ. Wait expectantly for Him to move. Trusting His purposes will lead to more peace and joy when dealing with difficult people and refinement.

Now that we’ve gained some perspective, are you ready for some specific strategies?

Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People

1. Assume they are doing the best they can.

This is a challenge…I struggle with this one, too. When dealing with difficult people over time, we begin to make negative assumptions (more on that here) about the motives of their heart. But, keep in mind that we are not reliable judges of the heart.

Assuming people are doing the best they can, is a God honoring way to reclaim joy.

“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” ~Jeremiah 17:10

2. Accept differences.

Everyone has different tools in their emotional, spiritual and relational tool box. When dealing with difficult people, remember they have tools of coping and living that are different from yours.

Be patient with the differences. Those differences are used by God to refine each of us in different ways.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” ~Ephesians 4:2

3. Don’t react. Instead, respond.

Emotions are typically running high in anticipation of negative interaction. Often, quick reactions have more to do with assumptions we’re making. Resist the urge to react emotionally (more on controlling emotions here).

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” ~James 1:19-20

4. Be assertive.

One huge misconception in Christian circles is you can’t be assertive and love well at the same time. That. Is. Wrong.

I spent too many years shrinking back in the name of love and striving to be a peacemaker.

It’s okay to say…”Please don’t speak to me like that.” Or, “You’re not being very kind right now.” Perhaps, “I appreciate your input, however I’m going to do it this way.”

Speak the truth with love…My pastor often says, “Truth without love is a sword and love without truth is ineffective.”

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:15

5. Set limits.

Dealing with difficult people is often challenging simply because we’re the ones struggling to set limits. Difficult people are a lot less difficult as we learn how to set firm limits.

Simply put, mean what you say and say what you mean.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” ~1 John 3:18

6. Listen well.

As we prepare to deal with difficult people we tend to get our defenses up. We mentally prepare for battle, prepping what we’ll say for each possible scenario…You know you’ve done it!

De-cock and holster those guns. Take a deep breath. Listening well goes a loooong way in diffusing a disagreement.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” ~James 1:19-20

7. Prepare a statement.

This is what I say, when I don’t know what to say (or when I know what to say, but it’s unkind)…“Let me think about that.” This can be used when you feel put on the spot, too. In the heat of the moment we all tend to be too quick to speak. When we have a statement to make, its best to think it through especially when dealing with difficult people.

One Thanksgiving, I was responsible for hosting the big family dinner. An overly helpful member of the family began making changes to my menu, the drinks and even the decorations. Feeling put on the spot at every turn, I gave into all the changes. I simply wanted to keep the peace(learn how to really do that here).

If I had said, “let me think about that”, I would have gained time to think things through and respond with firmer boundaries and still honored God.

Dealing with Difficult People Wrap Up

Difficult relationships can lead to feeling weary and run down. Resist the urge to wish them away. Instead, trust God is using those relationships for our refinement and His glory.

Even in the midst of tough relationships, we can choose how we respond with loving limits, assuming the best and accepting the differences.

If you have a difficult relationship in your life and would like some more personalized strategies, schedule a session for counseling here.

There are so many more strategies…share yours in the comments!


  1. Cecilia Sanchez on November 15, 2018 at 9:16 pm

    Thank you for this perspective, because I too just try to keep the peace. With these tools I can remember God is in control! I will pray and keep my mind on Christ. ♡

    • Sunshyne on November 19, 2018 at 4:49 pm

      Yes! That’s absolutely right Cecilia…prayer and eyes on Christ are key:) Thank you for stopping by!

  2. Raiza on November 18, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    Thanks a lot for the suggestions, very true pieces of advice! I will certainly get ahold of them. I need to keep my heart full of Our Lord’ love and peace. I am sure HE is guiding me , and I will become spiritually stronger! Raiza

    • Sunshyne on November 19, 2018 at 4:45 pm

      Hi Raiza! Thanks for stopping by! You are absolutely right…dealing with difficult people takes God’s guidance and will also take some practice:) Thank you for stopping by.

  3. Cat on March 29, 2019 at 8:45 am

    Thank you for sharing these loving perspectives! Every bit of this was helpful, but what really caused me to stop and ponder, was the very First Tip : “Assume they are doing the best that they can”, … because we really don’t know where they’ve been or how they’ve struggled to get here.
    Truly, it is only God who knows what is in our hearts and in the hearts of others.

    • Sunshyne on March 29, 2019 at 6:28 pm

      Hi Cat! Thanks for taking the time to share. That particular tip is the one that I work the hardest for! Assuming the best of others…but this is the tip that maintains my joy, too! Blessings!

  4. Barbra on November 20, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks for this its really what is happening in my marriage.

    • Sunshyne on December 1, 2019 at 9:47 am

      I’m glad you found it helpful and hopefully encouraging, too, Barbara:) Praying for you.

  5. Rebecca Gleason on February 5, 2020 at 6:42 am

    Dealing with difficult far to often draws me into overwhelmed and being difficult myself. Realizing that people are doing the best they can, with all they can in worldly understanding does help. Leaning on Him will be key: thank you for all you do!

  6. Sara Jane Kehler on February 5, 2020 at 7:23 am

    Here’s a related question:

    As a writer who is fairly new to blogging (just over a year now), I worry that people I know will read my blog and be angry with what I’ve written.

    I noticed that you referred to a family member in this article, and although you were careful not to describe this person or reference their name, wouldn’t they still recognize themselves in your post if they read it?

    How do you deal with the backlash when family and friends don’t like what you write about?

  7. K D on February 5, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Very timely in my life. Thank you

    • Marely on June 11, 2020 at 4:41 pm

      Thank you Sunshyne for this article, it does provide much needed perspective to live God’s way. Do you have more information on how to deal specifically with a Christian narcissist? Practical advice on how to lovingly respond to a family member ‘s hurtful behaviour, especially when they manipulate, do not think they ever do anything wrong, and “carry the Bible under their arm”. Thanks.

  8. Hiro Ford on April 23, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    Thank you Caroline, I have benefitted immensely from your writings and are more secure in myself as a person and fellow believer. God bless you and all that he has in store for you.

  9. Sunshyne Gray on April 26, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing encouraging words, Hiro!

  10. VvV on August 15, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks! I too have been struggling with my mother-inlaw for 6 years we live in one roof but the last moment I can’t take it anymore, my health have been at risk I’m emotionally abused so I decided to move out and the trauma I had with the treatment I got from them was unremarkable, took me months to finally felt that I’m free in our own house. But now we’re back at their house bec we’re going house renovation for 9months, I have forgiven them but I still feel scared to get hurt , she hasn’t change 🙁 I always try to find peace from Gods words.

  11. Joyful on February 27, 2022 at 3:53 pm

    Thank you that was very insightful and filled with wisdom. I am bookmarking this so I can read it more than once, many times I am sure! 🙂
    This prompts me to read other articles you have written as you are applying God’s word to these situations which is the true way to view and handle all of our life circumstances. I do not always handle difficulties with immediately applying God’ this will help me in the future and I thank you for your wisdom!
    I do have a question please….My boss uses the Lord’s name when she is upset or excited about something. “J C” is used a lot in my place of work. I have tried to bring it to her attention using humor saying “He’s here!” but she totally ignores me. I know that is probably a cowardly way (on my part) to address this. It is very upsetting to me that she uses the Lord’s name in vain. She tells me she is a Christian and I am not doubting that as I know the Lord judges the heart.
    I just do not know what to do. Any suggestions? I really dislike confrontation and it is just her and I that work together in this small store, she is the owner.
    I appreciate insight on this. Thank you again for this excellent article! God bless you!

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