Dealing with Difficult People

At some time or other almost everyone has to deal with difficult people whether it be in their home, school, church or workplace. There will be tares amongst the wheat until the end of time so the sooner we learn to cope with them, the better.

There are Biblical principles given to help in coping with these people, though not all of them apply to every situation.

Solomon warned about getting in trouble when reproving difficult people for you will just get in trouble (Proverbs 9:7, 8). He also said to be careful you don’t talk too much because the more you talk, the more trouble you get into (Proverbs 10:19). Another principle is to be humble (Proverbs 11:2; 13:10; 16:5; 16:18, 19). Here Solomon emphasizes the danger of pride, which results in contention and strife.

This instruction given in the Word is impossible to follow in our own strength. We need the grace of the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit, making sure that all our dealings with other people are honest and lawful. “The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.” Proverbs 11:9. They will know how to deal with situations in a loving and patient manner, not yielding to the temptation of despising them because of their weaknesses or something else they do not like about them.

Over and over again we are told not to be a talebearer. If you have a problem with someone, go directly to him/her resisting the urge to gossip. We all need help. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14.

Do you struggle at showing mercy to a difficult person? “The merciful man does good for his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.” Proverbs 11:17. “In His mercy and long-suffering, God bears patiently with the perverse and even the falsehearted. Among Christ’s chosen apostles was Judas the traitor. Should it then be a cause of surprise or discouragement that there are false-hearted ones among His workers today? If He who reads the heart could bear with him who He knew was to be His betrayer, with what patience should we bear with those at fault.” The Ministry of Healing, 493. A perverse person, or one who has done wrong, usually expects trouble or rejection, but when mercy is exercised it takes him/her by surprise and often results in better impulses.

“Those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their ways are His delight. … He who earnestly seeks good finds favor, but trouble will come to him who seeks evil.” Proverbs 11:20, 27. Time and time again we are admonished to seek diligently to do what’s right and not despise reproof (Proverbs 12:1). That is stated again several times in chapters 13 and 15.

The old adage that “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me” is so untrue. Words can pierce like a sword and some have developed the habit of having a smart mouth, making it difficult for others to get along with them. “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” Proverbs 12:18.

The wise man tells us to always tell the truth (Proverbs 12:19, 22) and always be faithful (Proverbs 13:15). Proverbs 14:17 is a warning against allowing yourself to be quick-tempered and Proverbs 14:29 says we are to be slow to become angry and avoid acting from impulse. The motivation for every action should be made from moral principle. Instead of reacting quickly from impulse, wait on the Lord, asking for the grace of the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 15:1, 28 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. … The heart of the righteous studies how to answer.” God is never in a hurry or wastes words.

A wise person receives reproof, but not so a fool. Everyone needs pleasant words. Proverbs 16:24 says that they “are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” It may be that the person who is difficult to get along with did not live in a cheerful, happy, sunny environment when he/she was growing up and has become hard hearted. That person, more than anyone, needs to hear pleasant words.

Proverbs 16:32 talks about the person who is slow to anger and who rules his spirit. This is an easy thing when everything is going all right, but totally different when being bombarded by an avalanche of stinging words. The one who can control his emotions, according to Solomon, is more honorable than the soldier in a military battle that captures a city.

It is so easy to find yourself in the middle of a quarrel or a fight that seems to ignite before it is realized.

Proverbs 17:14 says that we need to stop the contention before the quarrel starts. This takes discernment. Often, when tempted to engage in a heated discussion, it is prudent to remain silent. Not all thoughts need to be vocalized. “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.” Proverbs 17:27, 28. Remaining silent could save much trouble. For “a fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” Proverbs 18:7.

Solomon teaches us that we need to be careful not to offend other people because “a brother offended is harder to win than a strong city.” Proverbs 18:19. Often the closer we come to another the more liberty we take in speaking our mind, but we should always be sensitive in choosing our words to avoid being offensive to our friends and loved ones. It takes a miracle of divine grace to overcome the hurt when family or church family members are offended with each other. It is a marvel to think we can be offended with others and still believe we are going to heaven. No one holding a grudge will be allowed into the Holy City. Therefore the differences must be resolved here on this earth.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21. Some things should be overlooked (Proverbs 19:11). If a strong-willed child is reprimanded and disciplined for every little mistake he makes, when he grows up he will become rebellious or if he is not a strong-willed child his spirit will be broken, causing him to become discouraged. The effect will last his whole life. The child will grow up and never accomplish what could have been possible had his spirit not been broken. Some things must be overlooked.

It is astonishing to read in the Bible what things God was able to tolerate in people. Polygamy was not in God’s plan, yet it was rife amongst the Old Testament characters, even affecting the patriarchs. Yet He overlooked it and continued to work with these people. It might be noted that in every case where polygamy was practiced there was trouble in the home and all of the family members suffered the consequences.

For 6,000 years God has endured the devil’s program. We should also endure the mistakes and shortcomings of others. It would be very inappropriate when giving Bible studies to people in their homes to point out all the wrong things in their life, for it would be impossible for them to take it all at once without becoming discouraged. They may be living with somebody, cheating on their taxes, using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol, and their diet may be totally contrary to Biblical principles as well, but as they learn more about Jesus and His plan for their lives, the Holy Spirit will convict them of their need to overcome these bad habits.

What is desired in people is kindness (Proverbs 19:22). Some of the more gruff, tough and hard to get along with people in the world respond to kindness. A kind gesture will often break through with a person more than anything else. In our homes, the first thought of each occupant each morning should be concerning the other people in the family and what kind word could be said. How long has it been since you addressed a kind word to your spouse? A lack of kindness in the home produces hard-hearted children who are hard to get along with.

Never initiate a quarrel. Any fool can do that (Proverbs 20:3) and do not decide to repay evil with evil but “wait for the Lord” (Proverbs 20:22). Mercy is an interesting attribute of God that is unique to this planet where sin exists. Follow His example and practice mercy (Proverbs 21:21) for in the judgment there will be no “mercy [shown] to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13. To show mercy is to give when the person does not deserve it. Difficult people need mercy.

Jesus’ life was a demonstration of grace and tact. All who came to Him left with the knowledge of their importance to Him. Paul understood this when he said, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:6. Solomon wrote of the advantage that accrues to the one who has “grace on his lips.” Proverbs 22:11. Tact is not always to “just tell them what you think.” “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.” Proverbs 29:11.

Solomon says, “Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause.” Proverbs 24:28. In Proverbs 25:15, he says, “… a gentle tongue breaks a bone.” The key to reaching people is gentleness, particularly in dealing with strong-willed children. Jesus demonstrated gentleness; He came to this world to put down all rebellion and to reconcile the whole world to Himself. He said to the people, “Come unto Me, all of you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, because I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you are going to find rest in your souls. Because My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 (literal translation).

To deal with difficult people, first you are going to have to be able to rule your own spirit (Proverbs 25:28) and not be wise in your own eyes for “there is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 26:12. Be faithful (Proverbs 28:20), stay at your post of duty (Proverbs 27:8). Don’t be hasty in your speech (Proverbs 29:20) and don’t meddle in other people’s problems (Proverbs 26:17).

Methods to Be Successful

The following counsel, drawn from the chapter “In Contact with Others,” pages 483–496 of the book, The Ministry of Healing, provides instruction on how to deal with other people. First, three qualities must be developed – self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. Paul also says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15. Be sympathetic with others in their situations.

  • Be courteous. Jesus was always courteous, even to His persecutors. Being courteous springs from kindness of heart.
  • Do not exhibit self-pity. Even when you are wronged falsely “do not fret because of evil doers … for they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” Psalm 37:1, 2. To fret only causes a bad physiological effect on you when the other person may be oblivious.
  • We should not allow our feelings to be easily wounded. Never retaliate, but as far as possible, remove all cause for misunderstanding. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Colossians 3:12–15.
  • “Abstain from every form of evil.” I Thessalonians 5:22. Do everything that you can without sacrificing principle to bring conciliation to others. Paul says, as far as lies within you, or as far as possible, live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18). The Bible recognizes there are some people that will never be at peace with you no matter what you do.
  • “If impatient words are spoken to you, never reply in the same spirit.” The Ministry of Healing, 486. It is always best to meet anger in silence with a tender, forgiving spirit.
  • When you are the target of a storm of stinging, angry words, keep your mind stayed upon God.
  • When ill-treated or wrongfully accused, do not reply in anger. Keep your mind stayed fully upon God. “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.” Luke 12:2. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21.
  • Be patient, kind, forbearing, and cheerful. These attributes are found in I Corinthians 13.
  • Do not place a shadow over the lives of others by mournful speech. Everybody in this world has some sad things that happen to them. Some of the most cheerful people have had to deal with terrible tragedies but do not allow their minds to dwell on the discouragements of life. “The more you talk faith, the more faith you will have. The more you dwell upon discouragement … the more discouragements and trials you will have.” In Heavenly Places, 247.
  • Talk of the promises of God. Memorize them so that these things come to mind when you are in difficult situations. Pray for wisdom that you find the right promise for the situation.
  • Do not judge, accuse others, or engage in faultfinding or impatience. “When He [Jesus] was reviled, [He] did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten.” I Peter 2:23.
  • Treat each person, including those who are hard to get along with, with refinement and delicacy. (See Romans 12:10.)
  • Constantly inquire, What would Jesus do were He in my place? This can only be known through searching the Scriptures. His Word reveals His will.
  • Speak with a subdued voice. This is easier for some people than others who have voices that carry. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1.
  • Always be cheerful. (See Romans 12:8, 12.)
  • Be gentle in actions and speech, acting from principle and not from impulse.
  • Jesting, joking and trifling speech cause people to disbelieve what you have to say making it impossible to present the gospel.
  • Always put forth your best effort.
  • In order for your actions to be correct, your thoughts must be pure. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8.
  • “Cultivate the habit of speaking well of others. Dwell upon the good qualities. … When tempted to complain … praise something in that person’s life or character.” The Ministry of Healing, 492. Every Christian has struggles and needs some encouragement.
  • Do not dwell on the faults of others.
  • With our imagination we need to behold Jesus. “It is a law of the human mind that by beholding we become changed.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 91.
  • Never dwell on grievances. “He should make it a rule not to talk unbelief or discouragement, or dwell upon his grievances.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 96.

Dwelling on negative experiences causes depression. There is no doubt that some people experience terrible situations. However, going over these events repeatedly has caused some to lose all reason and need hospitalization. When the depression gets to that extent often professional help is needed and the patient is drugged with heavy medication for a time and then given various kinds of psychotherapy to bring them out of it. In the worst case scenario a person can eventually become so depressed that he/she cannot function reasonably at all and some even commit suicide.

It is a law of nature that by beholding we become changed. For a healthy outlook we need to make sure that we are beholding Jesus and His life in our thoughts and imagination.

“It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones.” The Desire of Ages, 83.

“Instead of criticizing and condemning others … I must put away every evil from my life. … Then, instead of weakening those who are striving against evil, I can strengthen them by encouraging words. … Take care to assure them of your interest and sympathy.” The Ministry of Healing, 492, 493.

Let them know that you are praying for them and be diligent in prayer, lifting their names and circumstances before the Lord. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” James 5:13 KJV. “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Verse 14 KJV.

Finally, all people need kindness and sympathy (The Ministry of Healing, 496). If in our homes and in our churches sympathy was exercised, the Lord could use His power to work miracles in such a way that we now know not. When people visit the homes and churches of those who exhibit kindness they will be attracted to them and inquire what it is that motivates them. Today, the world is cold and hard leaving many people desiring to come to a place that is warm and inviting.

When Jesus walked this earth it was like heaven to be in His presence. “The healing of His divine hand brought gladness and life to the dying, and ease and health to those suffering with disease. The day seemed to them like heaven upon earth, and they were utterly unconscious of how long it had been since they had eaten anything.” The Desire of Ages, 365. What a change it would be if we could pray and say, “Lord, help it to become like heaven to be in my presence.” With the character of Jesus reflecting in and through us, that will be the kind of person we will be. Pray that the Lord will work out that miracle in each of our lives.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.