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Dealing with Difficult People

Every one of us comes up against difficult people, difficult situations and difficult circumstances throughout our lives. For students, that can mean studying, flat sharing and friendships (not to mention what is happening at home).

What can you do if you find yourself in one of these difficult situations?

Do nothing

Doing nothing in the hope that the problem will just go away is one way but generally it is only postponing the problem. Doing nothing can also mean that resentment and anger can build and build until you explode – and then you can be perceived as the difficult person.

Talk to someone

Talking to someone you can trust either someone who is part of the situation or someone who isn’t, like someone from Student Services.   Friends and family back home can also be helpful. The really helpful thing about talking to someone else is that you get a reality check – is the other person really being difficult or is there something about them or the situation you are in that is pushing one or more of your buttons? In other words, are you reacting in this situation in a way that is not totally appropriate? Your bossy, fussy flat mate is not your mother, father, brother, sister, old teacher or your ex.

If you are living away from home for the first time, you may be finding that the people you are living with now are very different from the people you grew up with.   It can also lead to your basic assumptions about everyday life being challenged – can it really be that other people actually live like that…we were never allowed to do that at home?

After much thought, you have decided that something needs to be done. In other words, someone needs to be talked to and the best way is to do that on your own – and not when you have just had a row with him or her.

Decide what you want to get across during this conversation and what action you hope will be the outcome, but make absolutely sure that you give the other person the chance to put across their point of view.

Be realistic and self-aware. You may not get everything you want but do be aware of what is the minimum that is going to be acceptable to you (for example, that the other person will bear in mind your needs when living in the flat with you).

If this conversation does not work, then set up another one but agree on some other person who can act as a “referee” – someone who will keep you both on track and cool things down if necessary. You could also write a letter to the person concerned.

If things turn more serious and there is a question of harassment, bullying or victimisation, then you have to become more serious also.   Keep a record, detailing witnesses, times, dates and a full description of what happened.

Ask for help

Go to Student Services or the University Chaplain or the Students’ Association. You don’t need to be on your own as you deal with this. There will be a way forward, and Student Services can help you and the other person to find the way through.

For more help and information about this or about anything else, why not speak to Student Services? Email:

Report an incident

If you or someone you know has experienced bullying, discrimination, abuse, assault or harassment of any sort, you can report such incidents anonymously using the University’s Report and Support tool. You can also choose to report using your contact details so a Student Services adviser can get in touch with you to help provide support. 

The University of St Andrews would like to acknowledge the contribution of Anglia Ruskin University (2005) for the content of much of this document.



Advice and Support Centre
79 North Street
St Andrews
KY16 9AL
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 46 2020

Open Monday to Friday
9:30am to 4:30pm