4 Tao Teachings for Handling Difficult People

Taoism, always in force, teaches us how to handle ourselves in difficult environments. How to flow and not get into arguments? How do I avoid being negative when faced with stimuli that I cannot handle? We answer these questions below.
4 Tao Teachings for Handling Difficult People
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 01 May, 2024

The Tao gives us wise advice for dealing with difficult people, those who rob us of energy and that often block our paths. According to the principles of Lao-Tze, in these cases the best thing is to keep calm and serene, empty negative emotions and remove power from those who take away your calm.

If we take a look at the latest publications that talk about how to improve our communication style and how to achieve success at work, there is a recurring theme – learning how to manage difficult people. We are aware that this term can open up a can of worms, so we should define, first of all, what we mean by difficult people.

Within the world of business and coaching, in order to survive in our social contexts, we are forced to coexist forcefully with very specific personality profiles. Specifically, passive-aggressive people and narcissistic people. They are present in almost any scenario, they verbally abuse, they manipulate, and sometimes, their mere presence already bothers us.

In the past few years, many publications used the Tao’s teachings in order to talk about how to manage these situations. First, because they know how to handle emotions well, and second, for us to manage how we can face abuse of power, set limits and improve our communication.

It doesn’t matter that Lao-Tze’s texts are centuries old. His legacy continues to be very useful.

Chinese painting

1. Control difficult people without having to fight with them

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.
-Sun Tzu-

Taoism says that living is like flowing through a river. We should let ourselves be led without resistance in order to enjoy harmony.

Concepts such as struggle, confrontation or resistance are the antithesis of that idea, of that concept where we are simply encouraged to move forward with courage and flexibility. So, whoever chooses, for example, to get into arguments, to constantly confront difficult people, will only become more discouraged and tremendously frustrated.

Opting to “not fight” does not mean giving in or letting ourselves be overwhelmed. It means, above all, not giving power to those who do not deserve it, choosing wisdom over violence and opting to be calm rather than opening the floodgates for anxiety.

2. Empty your cup of negative emotions

“Emptiness the starting point. — In order to taste my cup of water you must first empty your cup. My friend, drop all your preconceived and fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is useful? Because it is empty.”
-Bruce Lee-

Difficult people often spoil our day with a single word or comment. No matter how irrational their message is, the inappropriateness of their actions always affects us. One of the tips the Tao has for us is that the less reactive we are, the more space we will have to make use of our judgment.

Let us therefore try to control how upset we are, and our negative emotions. Once the difficult person does what they need to do, we should count to 10 and breathe deeply. Nobody has the right to spoil our day, so we will empty ourselves of anger, spite and bad moods, one by one …

Our mind must remain like a clear room, where toxic winds enter through one window and disappear through another.

3. Be proactive, not reactive

Difficult people sometimes make us victims. Little by little, we accumulate so much hatred, discomfort and frustration that we run the risk of reacting in the worst way. This is not good. Sooner or later we will regret that reaction, and we will especially regret not having set limits beforehand.

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy“.
– Abraham Lincoln-

man and Chinese writing

The Tao recommends us to learn to be proactive. What does this mean, exactly? It means that we must learn to take control of things instead of watching them happen.

One piece of advice that Tao teaches us is that every time we see a difficult person, let’s try to put ourselves in their shoes by using the phrase, “it must not be easy”.

This phrase can help us understand many things. “It should not be easy for my co-worker to have problems with everyone, to have so little patience and so little control over their emotions”. “It must not be easy for my brother to have problems finding work, have a debt and also having that difficult personality”.

Understanding the perspective of others will allow us to be prepared to better control the situation. It will make it so that when we are ready to give help, it is more timely. And when we make constructive criticism, it is more accurate and motivating.

4. The strength of Bamboo

“the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death. The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.”
-Tao Te Ching-

Sometimes it happens that the situation with difficult people reaches a limit and we are not only cornered, but we feel bent, even completely humiliated. In those moments, the Tao recommends us to visualize bamboo.

It also bends, it also receives the impact of a fierce wind that wants to control it and have it under their power. However, this never happens, because bamboo gets its strength from its flexibility. The fact that it bends makes it stronger when it reacts.

We can also do this. When we feel that we have reached the limit it is time to rise with greater force to generate a change. We will not use violence, because strength is not violence. It is the capacity to respond, it is knowing how to position ourselves with courage before those who dare to turn us into something we are not – weak people.


To conclude, the Tao contains wonderful embers of knowledge that continue to ignite our capacity for learning, enlightening us with their ability to handle the complexities of today’s world with greater wisdom.

Let’s learn from it and apply it whenever possible.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.