Are YOU a Difficult Person?


By Sarah Elliston


Sarah Elliston provides a profile of a difficult person, and tips on how to not be one, on Big Blend Radio.

Does it feel as if everybody is arguing these days?  Do you contribute?  Is it possible that you are a difficult person?

Difficult people are generally classified as people who annoy others.   

How do you know if  you are a difficult person?  I can help.  I am a recovering difficult person.


Do you chase someone in traffic to self-righteously point out their mistake? Watch your rage reaction; are you tempted to teach people lessons?
Do you forcefully repeat yourself when people don’t agree with you? It is so frustrating but what do you do?  WATCH YOURSELF. Do you dig in and insist?

Do you enjoy pointing out all the ways something will fail at home or at work?  WATCH YOURSELF. This can be a helpful role, if you have permission, but if you do it all the time, people feel criticized.

Do you feel so passionate about an issue that you interrupt meetings, mealtimes or social events in order for people to hear you and agree? WATCH YOURSELF.

I did this. I seethed when I heard adult men calling adult women “girls.” As an employee of a non-profit, I interrupted the chair of our board of trustees when he described the women in the room as, “You girls.” I declared forcefully, “There are no girls in this room.”  He had no idea what I was talking about, laughed gently and continued the meeting.  I felt proud that I stood for feminism and educated the men. That, of course, was not what happened. Stay tuned.    


Do you notice that others stop interacting when you try join a conversation?  Do you find your family members changing the subject?  PAY ATTENTION.  It’s possible they see you as argumentative and no fun.

Parents note: teenagers need to oppose their parents. It’s the nature of the age. However, do PAY ATTENTION AND LISTEN because they still need to be heard.

Do you intentionally undermine someone’s power at work by not completing an assignment or not providing resources that they need?  Do you conveniently forget to invite someone to a meeting?  PAY ATTENTION.  It’s possible that you are controlling and being perceived as a bully.

When I had lunch meetings with fellow professionals, sometimes it seemed like I was the only one talking. I wondered why nobody else talked. I used humor to poke fun at other people. I admired my colleagues but we weren’t friends. 



If you have read this far and found an example of when you might be difficult, stick with it.

Sometimes it is hard to identify the consequences of our actions because people don’t always tell us. They fear our reaction.

When I “educated” my board president, for example, nobody said a word.  Four months later, my contract was not renewed and my boss suggested that my style was too direct and more appropriate for a jail. I was puzzled. He never spoke about the board meeting incident and it took years for me to connect the dots.

If you hear yourself telling others why something won’t work, they won’t invite you to try something new and there goes your promotion.

If you spend lunch gossiping about another person to a colleague, you probably won’t be invited to have lunch again and there goes a potential ally in the job.

If your reaction to change is always negative, people will not share their plans with you until it is all figured out and you will lose the opportunity to do something new.

If you hear yourself being offended about the day, the work plan, the airlines, the vacation, the children, the in-laws, NOTICE. Negativity is unpleasant for others to hear and it makes us feel bad when we say it.  We spoil the day for ourselves and others, and we cause friction.

Do you hear yourself insisting that your way is the right way and others should stop arguing and just “Do It?”  NOTICE.  This is the first step in being a bully.  You may feel it is leadership but you will notice that good colleagues find other teams to work on and family members become estranged.  


We don’t intend to be difficult but if you NOTICE yourself doing these things, STOP.

It isn’t as hard as it seems. Just stop and LISTEN to yourself and others. LISTEN more than you talk. PAY ATTENTION to the people in your life and not your knee jerk reaction of why they are  wrong.

Recent research into the school shootings demonstrates that children need to be heard.  All of us need to be listened to without criticism and judgement.  Listening where you used to argue or harangue will be a surprise. People will treat you differently.

You need to REALLY LISTEN to the comments in your head that you would normally say out loud.  Ask yourself if those comments are helpful.  Check to see if the things you used to say were getting you more or fewer friends.

Some people find writing a private journal is helpful, a place to write all the negative feelings they are tempted to say.  When I did this, I would write until I ran out of things. Then I looked it over to notice that probably saying them wasn’t helpful. I felt the intensity less.

ASKING QUESTIONS of another is also helpful. Asking their opinion and listening to the answer without a negative reaction can lead to dialogue, not arguments.

I have also learned to ask if what I said annoyed someone or seemed too negative. People want to be kind so they usually are gentle when they respond to these questions. They are willing to meet me half way and many friends don’t perceive me as difficult.

In summary: 

PAY ATTENTION, PAY ATTENTION, PAY ATTENTION. To your own actions, your own words and feelings, the responses of others and the consequences of your actions.  Take a deep breath, look at yourself, and relax. Listen, ask questions and find ways to let go of anything about yourself that you find difficult.

Sarah H. Elliston is the author of “Lessons from a Difficult Person – How to Deal With People Like Us”. She is a faculty member of the William Glasser Institute and is a workshop leader and trainer who is certified in Values Realization, Parent Effectiveness Training and Reality Therapy. For more about Reality Therapy and to read Sarah’s blog, visit

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About the Author:

Sarah H. Elliston is the author of “Lessons from a Difficult Person – How to Deal With People Like Us”. She is a faculty member of the William Glasser Institute and is a workshop leader and trainer who is certified in Values Realization, Parent Effectiveness Training and Reality Therapy.

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