Emotional Intelligence The Key to Influence Difficult People

It’s no secret that emotional intelligence (EQ) is incredibly important.  90% of the top performers in any workplace are shown to have high EQ, while only 20% of low-performing workers do. Clearly, emotional intelligence is a key factor for success.

However, if you test low for emotional intelligence don’t fret! It’s a skill that you can develop with practice and training.

In case you were unaware before Daniel Goleman, Peter Salovey was an early pioneer of EQ. He “define[s] emotional intelligence as the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Today, you are going to learn about how EQ can help you deal with toxic and difficult people in your own life. Read on for more information as to how you can overcome negative interpersonal communications and influence people!

Identify What the Person Is Feeling


One of the keys for success with emotional intelligence is learning to observe and identify what other person is feeling.

You can do this through observation and the assessment of non-verbal cues. Examples of what to note include:

While identifying a person’s emotions is an incredibly important part of dealing with them. It’s also important that you don’t get sucked into what they are feeling. Learn to observe and identify your own emotions so that you can avoid doing this.

A mindfulness practice or meditation are excellent tools to help you develop this ability to avoid getting sucked into a toxic conversation and resulting in a non-productive emotional state.

Don’t Get “Emotionally” Committed to an Outcome

One of the most important secrets to use when people want to argue with you is to not be emotionally committed to winning the argument.

Let go of the ego or competitive need to be “right” and focus on the outcome you’re after. There’s a saying attributed to King Pyrrhus of Epirus, 279 AD when he lost a battle to the Romans. “It’s not about winning the battle it’s about winning the war- “ Granted it’s not war but you get the idea. If we learn to let go of your need to always be right, you might like the outcome.

So here´s a strategy that works miracles for me. I live in a community were people love to argue (why, I don’t know?)

Try this next time someone wants to start an argument with you. Instead of engaging them in the argument, acknowledge what they say and tell them you “understand” them 100%. Even if, you don´t agree with their statements. Typically, your interlocutor will be thrown off guard and unsure of how to react. This lack of surety makes them more likely to pause, relax and take a breath, at which point you will have leverage, which gives you a bit of influence. Because they will start to open up and listen. This is the point at which you can begin a productive dialogue.

The key here is keep in mind you don’t need to be proven right to be the winner of the argument. After all “who’s a bigger fool? The fool, or the person who argues with the fool?”

In order to do this genuinely, you need to let go of your ego, that insatiable need to be right, the need to win etc…

I know this is very difficult for most people- After all, humans are wired to compete and to survive. Further, we are concerned with what others (the tribe) might think of us, we want to save face, to feel important and significant.

We want to avoid looking as though we´ve failed, which is incredibly important for human beings. However, the ability to let go of your ego is one of the critical components to be an effective communicator and when applying EQ. So often without realizing it, our egos hold us back from reaching success. We don’t see it even though it’s right there in front of us.

Emotional Intelligence Set Limits and Boundaries

Set Limits and Boundaries


Setting personal boundaries is incredibly important in many situations. These boundaries set limits on what behaviour is acceptable to you and what behaviour isn’t. Setting boundaries is a measure of self-respect because it ensures that you are treated in a way that is acceptable to you.

When dealing with a difficult person, setting boundaries is even more important. Toxic people generally do not care about your feelings and limits and are willing to cross them. This makes it important to enforce your boundaries with these types of people. There is nothing wrong with telling someone how they can and can’t treat you. At times it may be necessary to tell someone explicitly that to back-off because you´re securing your boundaries. However, in the workplace I might suggest being careful when using this direct approach.

It is really important because toxic complainers not only drain your energy like a vampire, but also because negativity is catchy and it spreads. As a result you’re more likely to compromise other’s boundaries when someone infringe upon yours!

It’s best to avoid these types of people altogether, but if you cannot, limit the amount of time you spend with them. If this truly is impossible, then structure the time that you spend with them in such a way that you will limit their toxicity and that you feel a bit more comfortable.

Focus on Solutions


When dealing with someone who complains about everything, it’s easy to fixate on problems. First of all, you might feel irritated with the person and spend an inordinate amount of time considering all the things that are wrong with them. But ultimately that’s a huge waste of your resources, valuable time and energy. Also most likely you won’t get much accomplished towards your goal because you will be overly focused on the negatives.

Being solution-oriented ensures that you remain in the most positive and productive emotional state. Why is this important? Because according to Harvard and other research you are much more creative, dynamic and productive when you are in a positive emotional and mental state. So DO NOT let that chronic complainer get you off track!

Peter Salovey said it well when he stated that “people in good moods are better at inductive reasoning and creative problem-solving.” Make sure that you remain positive and focus on solving the problem at hand in a creative and effective way!


Don’t Respond to Emotional Chaos


Toxic people tend to attempt to create emotional chaos.

Don’t try to beat them at their own game. Don’t get sucked in. Don’t respond to this emotional chaos- instead, put distance between you and the person. In fact, if possible try to approach your interactions with these types of people as though they’re a science experiment!

Focus only on useful emotions, facts and solutions. The rest is simply mental noise or mental ‘rubbish’.

Forgiveness Affects Success

Forgive but Don’t Forget


It can very hard not hold a grudge against someone, especially when they constantly are getting on your nerves. However, doing so will only eat you up inside, and it will ultimately only hold you back from progressing. Think of it like having a bushel of wonderful blueberries and then there’s this one rotten blueberry in the bushel. Just that one rotten blueberry will rot the entire bushel of blueberries if its left there to rot. In the end, you will be the casualty, the one who gets hurt more so than anyone else by holding a grudge.

That isn’t to say, however, that you should forget the turmoil that the toxic person put you through. Learn from it so you are stronger in the future to deal with that sort of thing. But just because you had a negative experience with this person do not misplace your trust in the future.

Stay Aware of Their Emotions


John D. Mayer describes emotions as something that “occurs when there are certain biological, certain experiential, and certain cognitive states which all occur simultaneously.” Wow that’s a mouth full. However, that’s a scientific definition, but it’s important to be mindful and aware of our emotional states and that of others. Mayer’s description paints emotions as natural responses that can’t always be stopped. Which I know with mindfulness practises or meditation you can learn to observe your emotion and curtail them from controlling you. Your mind and emotions are there to serve and protect you but they are not your master. If you choose to learn to master yourself your desires, emotions etc…

What you can control are the ways that you respond to your own emotions and those of others. The first step toward this is awareness.

You need to be aware of your emotional state and the interlocutor’s emotional state. This requires active listening and emotional intelligence skills. You also should maintain a healthy emotional distance from toxic individuals. This will help you prevent getting caught off-guard and being sucked in by toxic individuals and having them push your buttons.

A recent incident related to this topic. I recently had someone come stay with me for a couple of days. It was perfect timing because I was writing this article. I was able in real time test out what I recommend here. Here’s the interesting part, when I would not engage this person in their “emotional games” or trying to emotionally manipulate my emotion, this individual would get quite angry, upset and nasty.

Awareness can be built by practicing mindfulness.

For some interesting tips on boosting awareness, check out these Ted Talks!


Reframe Your Mindset

No one is going to argue that dealing with a toxic person on a regular basis is a healthy idea or will create a positive and fulfilling life.

However, there are steps that you can take to remain positive and reframe the negativity that’s being thrown at you. After all, you might as well try to get some benefits out of the negative situation!

A silver-lining in a dark cloud, Learn as much as possible from that difficult boss or toxic co-worker. Focus on honing your EQ skills in dealing with them. These dealings will make you more in tune with both your own feelings and those of others, and give you the opportunity to raise your EQ.

Even if you´re considering requesting a transfer to another department or entirely a new job at a new company, you will need to deal with difficult people in the future. Using this opportunity to improve your EQ skills will help you could at your new position.

Start Looking for a New Position

Some bosses and people can be so difficult that it’s just easier and healthier you start looking for a new place to work whether a change of department within your firm or new company altogether.

Since you’ve already had to go through putting up with the toxic situation and difficult boss, put the rest of your time to productive use. Learn what you can about emotional intelligence and self-awareness before you hightail it out of there!

Learn More About Emotional Intelligence

Dealing with difficult people at work or in social situations can be draining and difficult. Luckily, there are ways that you can cope and maintain your own mental health and well-being.

As you can see emotional intelligence can help you deal with difficult people, if you like to get more emotional intelligence training or learn how you can be aware of other people’s hidden feelings and nonverbal cues. Sign up now for our EQ course to get more expert tips on harnessing power of understanding of the emotions of others and rising above and succeed in difficult situations.

For more information on this course or to enroll in it, contact our communications coach.

Success Always!

We look forward to hearing from you!


Emotional Intelligence is attributed to Professors Peter Salovey and John D. (Jack) Mayer in 1990.


Prof. Salovey is the President of Yale University, and the Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology.


John Mayer was a Postdoctoral Scholar at Stanford University and is a Professor of Psychology at University New Hampshire. They have conducted very significant research in the area and published numerous articles of importance.


They were joined later by David Caruso, PhD to continue the development of the model with them and the development of their ability-based, emotional intelligence assessment: the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence-Test (MSCEIT).



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