Dealing with Difficult People

Understanding six challenging personality types


Education psychology and educational neuroscience learning relationship technology as a 3D illustration.

Life is full of social interactions, from connecting with our loved ones to confrontations with challenging individuals whom we cannot stand to be around. Unfortunately from time to time, we have to deal with those who push our buttons one way or another – certain acquaintances, neighbors, family members, colleagues, or even passengers. Interactions like these are not only annoying, but they might also even be harmful to your work performance and your emotional health. If you must interact, the least you can do is protect your own mental health by recognizing and understanding six challenging personality types. 

Six Personality Types

By nature, humans have three patterns of behavior in stressful situations: fight, flight, or submission, also known as “freeze.” For example, a common stress response is to react aggressively and with irritation. When people feel that they do not have sufficient strength of their own, they can exhibit passive-aggressive behavior. Others expresses themselves with childish behaviors or play the victim role. Depending on the situation and their level of stress, people can react in different ways. 

There are various kinds of difficult people, and challenging behaviors manifest in many forms. Here, we highlight six personality types that can push buttons: the Boundary Crosser, the Talker, the Dominant Leader, the Critic, the Avoider, and the Follower. Though they might not behave badly on purpose, each type can make life miserable. Keep in mind that these are not official personality disorders or other mental health diagnoses. Understanding and recognizing these different personality types can help provide insight to deal more effectively with difficult people. 

1. The Boundary Crosser

How to recognize: As the name suggests, this type crosses personal boundaries. Overall, they have little sense of your needs when they differ from their own. They want to interfere with other people’s personal lives and feel like everything has to be shared. The Boundary Crosser can quickly feel rejected when boundaries are set or when keeping distance, often leading to disagreements and emotional conflicts that might distract from the core issue. The continuous power struggle takes energy and can lead to excessive worry about maintaining healthy boundaries with this person. 

Important: This personality type does not easily agree to boundaries. When openly disagreeing, the boundary crosser might try to elicit an explanation, potentially opening up the opportunity for negotiation. Try not to become distracted by explanations or by emotions such as guilt or anger. End the conversation as soon as possible. Remind yourself that it is sometimes necessary to be more direct and a little less friendly.

What to do: 

  • Know your boundaries. 
  • State clearly what you do and do not want, use direct language. Other forms of communication might be misunderstood. 
  • Clearly say “no.” Avoid words such as “but” or “maybe.”
  • Show “no” through body language, using a confident and upright stance. 
  • Try not to be too open or confidential.
  • Usually, good manners are considered necessary by this personality type. Stay calm, even if you are, righteously so, angry or upset.
  • Ask for time out to reflect upon yourself, your boundaries, and your arguments. Asking for a time out to think about your response also shows that you take your opponent seriously. 
  • Keep your arguments short, concise and rational. Point out rules, laws, or principles, if applicable. 
  • Do you not feel good about the issue at hand? Explain directly without further explanation.
  • Include these individuals through participation or by sharing information. Once they feel excluded, the unwanted behavior might intensify. 

2. The Talker
How to recognize: Talker personality types can be identified by how they present themselves, often with expensive clothing and luxurious possessions. Spreading knowledge and experience that does not fit the situation should be received with caution. Talkers are hardly open to criticism, and confrontation might be counterproductive and incentivize them to share more incredible stories. 

Talkers are charming and inspiring people gifted in some areas but often have superficial knowledge or skills in other areas. How they present themselves is essential to them, which prevents them from developing further. Help and advice are unwanted. They do not ask questions and do not ask for help. They are looking for an audience that admires them, not one that questions them. Professional achievements are a crucial part of their identity, and status is important. Stories about conquests in love, relationships with important people, great possessions, and plans are frequently told stories. However, when they are likely not able to live up to the expectations, it impacts their trustworthiness.

Important: A Talker makes stories and plans sound more promising to get attention and support. Protecting oneself by staying emotionally distant, taking their promises and stories with a grain of salt can help prevent you from becoming caught up in their illusions and deceit. 

What to do: 

  • When saying “no” to a Talker, remain subjective. For example, share that you do not feel good about the issue or that your intuition tells you to say no. 
  • Do not comment on stories that appear unrealistic. Take them with a grain of salt and try to let go. Remember, confrontation is counterproductive. 
  • Prevent investing time and money in the plans of this personality type because you may become emotionally involved, and the chances of failure are predominant. 
  • When working with a Talker, be clear about everyone’s responsibilities to prevent being blamed for their lack of knowledge or skills.

3. The Dominant Leader

How to recognize: A Dominant Leader focuses mainly on fear, accompanied by tantrums, threats, and insults. He is venturous, overpowering, and task-oriented; he is not a team player. Such behavior can provoke others to feel less significant or annoyed, leading them to obey or withdraw. It might be challenging to stand up for oneself and express feelings when feeling oppressed by a dominant type. It is crucial to be aware that this personality type’s behavior is likely caused by various experiences throughout their lives, possibly in which they could not show weakness.

Important: Everyone responds to stress differently. One will attack (fight), and the other will run away (flight). Remember that this is the Dominant Leader’s stress response and try to calm yourself down to not get caught up in fear or anger. 

What to do:

  • Do not be discouraged; sit or stand upright and remain calm until the other person is finished raging. 
  • Calmly ask what they need from you.
  • Be confident and explain your point of view while acknowledging the content of the Dominant Type’s message – as long as you mean it. This requires self-confidence, preparation, and expertise.
  • Another option is to ask for time out for reflection and to clarify everything for yourself first. 
  • Again, when disagreeing, it might help to point out laws or principles if applicable.

4. The Follower

How to recognize: This personality type often talks about decisions that they hardly or never make and how they feel stuck. They often feel helpless, incapable of solving challenges, and search for parental figures to solve their problems. The wait-and-see attitude of the Follower can be challenging to deal with. Followers consciously seek out the more social, balanced people who can support them when they need them. They need guidance, confirmation, reassurance and advice, but do not take responsibility.

Important: Are you a caregiving person? Be aware of this personality type because it might cause a lot of well-intentioned energy to keep up with their challenges and projects that might not be followed up or finished. Remember, it is not your responsibility to save them however challenging life might feel for this personality type. Followers can be supported with encouragement while monitoring your boundaries.

What to do: 

  • To make change happen, leave the initiative with the Follower. Let them decide what will happen. For example, tell them that you do not know what to do, and follow that with silence. Silence is often difficult to tolerate, and action might follow. They must decide for themselves what to do, which is precisely what they need to do. 
  • Be mindful of your boundaries and communicate them clearly and diplomatically. Respectfully offer alternatives when necessary. 
  • Since Followers often criticize themselves, it is crucial to avoid adding criticism but instead, offer reassurances and constructive suggestions.

5. The Critic 

How to recognize: This type often belittles other people and feels more superior to others. We all have flaws, and the Critic knows how to attribute mistakes to someone else’s lack of knowledge or skills, never to themselves. Sensitive people might be more susceptible to this behavior which might cause them to doubt and lower their self-confidence. To give them your attention is to give them validation and recognition of their superiority. Similar to dealing with the Dominant Leader, it is crucial to keep your distance from this personality type. Remember, Critics are not necessarily bad people though their behavior can be destructive to others. Their upbringing often lacked emotional warmth, care, love, and acceptance from their caregivers. There may have also been a lack of interest in their pleasure, needs, worries, and emotions. 

Important: The Critic can make you feel incompetent and worthless. Everyone needs positivity, appreciation, and encouragement in relationships, which the Critic does not recognize. It may help to think of them as struggling with themselves and lacking the emotional capacity to reflect upon themselves, which causes them to project onto others. Staying friendly yet distant with the Critic helps you protect yourself. However, more sensitive people coping with self-image might have more difficulty with this personality type. If it is too challenging to keep mentally distant, it may help to lower the frequency of contact with them or even end the relationship. 

What to do:

  • Try to suppress the urge to defend yourself; defending can have spiraling aggression as a result. 
  • Try not to take criticism and negativity personally. Remind yourself that it says more about the person expressing it in this way.
  • Change the topic to something completely different. Do not let their comments get to you or challenge you to get into an argument. 
  • Directly answer their comments in a friendly manner. Even though taking the time for reflection might be helpful in many situations, with this personality type, it might be more beneficial to stop their offense immediately so they will not get to you. 
  • Kill them with kindness. Being friendly and attentive can help make them less hostile. Lend a helping hand. “How can we ensure that we solve the problem together?” 
  • Dealing with the Critic positively requires dealing with your irritation and the actual willingness to solve the problem together.

6. The Avoider

This personality type avoids anything they are fearful of. Common examples are being afraid of social contact, conflict, health, work, responsibilities, and others’ problems. Avoidance is a result of fear, and fear is a persistent emotion. The Avoider’s response often manifests itself in denial, hypersensitivity, and procrastination. When counting on an Avoider’s responsibility in a relationship or friendship, at work or in the family, and they fail to deliver, it can be challenging to deal with. Their behavior often stems from anxiety during their childhood that was not accepted or was criticized by their caregivers. In addition, people who faced danger, violence, or unpredictable behavior during their childhood may also have developed an avoidance strategy.

Important: When dealing with an Avoider, it is crucial to be patient; persistent and have tolerance for frustration. When having a high sense of responsibility, this personality type can be perceived as a burden. In this case, it is crucial to set strict boundaries. Know where your responsibilities are and where they end and keep a clear view of your interests to prevent disappointments. 

What to do: 

  • Set and share your boundaries and give them a choice. For example, offer to help them under the condition that they will contribute as well. 
  • Identify your feelings and identify what the consequences would be. Share your feelings and state the consequences clearly. Especially if these consequences are worse than what they want to avoid, this is a successful tactic.
  • Ask what is going on, what they are afraid of, and encourage every step, no matter how small.
  • Remember: it is not unwillingness; it is fear. Progress is made with patience. 

Final Note

Dealing with challenging people means knowing and guarding yourself and your boundaries well. It might help to distance yourself from a personality type if it causes a strong response within yourself, if you can no longer defend yourself or when you react too strongly. If it is impossible to maintain sufficient distance due to circumstances or personal issues, it might help to seek professional help to guide you in how to better deal with this. 

Do you notice that you feel easily triggered by certain personality traits? There might be a chance that you are suppressing those characteristics within yourself. It may be helpful to take time to reflect on what your annoyances might indicate about yourself.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.