Quiz: Are YOU the One That Everyone Finds Difficult?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day — or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Quiz — Are YOU the one that everyone finds difficult?

We all see the world through our own eyes, and it can be hard to recognize how our words and actions appear to other people. One of the challenges of being a difficult person is realizing that you’re a difficult person. I’ve known many difficult people who, I suspect, have no idea that others find them difficult!

In his excellent book The No A****** Rule(I’m omitting the title not from prudery but from fear of spam-blockers), and also on his blog, Work Matters, Bob Sutton has a quiz to help people recognize if they are a*******.

I was inspired to adapt that material for this quiz. As you answer these questions, be brutally honest with yourself. Don’t make excuses for yourself or other people; just try to answer accurately. These questions apply to family members gathering for a holiday, or to co-workers, or to any group of people who are trying to get along with each other.

–When you join a group of people, does the mood often shift? Does a group tend to break apart after you join it?

–When you do something generous for others, do you think it only right that your generosity will allow you to make decisions for them or direct their actions?

–Do you find it hard to get your calls and emails returned?

–Do you often find that when you do something nice for people, they do a lot of grumbling? Do they seem ungrateful or uncooperative? Do they seem reluctant to accept your generosity? For example, you offered to host Thanksgiving dinner, but no one appreciated it.

–Are you often puzzled when people dramatically over-react to little mistakes, oversights, or casual remarks you make? You bring up some hilarious anecdote from years ago, and everyone acts upset.

–Do you think it important to express your true feelings and views authentically, even if that means upsetting other people?

–Do you find that people seem resentful and angry when you offer objective, helpful criticism or advice?

–Do you often find yourself saying defensively, “It was just a joke!” Along the same lines, do you find yourself remarking on how other people don’t have a sense of humor, or can’t laugh at a little teasing?

–Do you find that even when you’re trying to be helpful by explaining something or providing information, people don’t seem to want to listen to you?

–Do you feel annoyed because people tend to refuse to acknowledge your greater experience or knowledge in an area, and instead, ignore your suggestions?

–Do people tend to change the conversation when you try to explain an insight that has led you to make a major lifestyle change?

–Do people tend to gang up against you – when you’re arguing one side, everyone takes the other side, or when one person criticizes you, everyone else chimes in?

–Do you find it funny to see other people squirm?

–If someone asks for your opinion, do you think it’s right to tell them frankly what you think?

–Do you think it’s useful to point out people’s mistakes, areas of incompetence, or previous track records of failure?

–Is it fairly common for one person to tell you that he or she will speak to a third person, so that you don’t have to? In other words, do people volunteer to act as intermediaries for you, rather than let you do your own talking?

–Do you think it’s a waste of time for people to talk about their personal lives or pursuits?

“Yes” answers may be a red flag that you’re a source of unhappiness for others. Not necessarily, but perhaps.

What do you think? Do you disagree with some of these questions — or have additional ones to add?

* Speaking of great bloggers, my friend Pamela Slim, of Escape from Cubicle Nation fame (both a bookand a blog), wrote a very thought-provoking guest post on Gaping Void, You, Less Than.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
NEW! Watch the 30-second television commercial (!)
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 42,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Becky

    I have another one – are most people you encounter either fools, jerks, or both? Do you have to spend a lot of energy compensating for others’ failings?

  • Anon

    “–If someone asks for your opinion, do you think it’s right to tell them frankly what you think?”

    As it happens, the answer to that one is “yes”. Over the years this has ensured that I have become a go-to person for everyone for problems ranging from “what do I do with my life?” to “how do I deal with a difficult relative?. I regret giving unbiased and well-informed and compassionate advice. Especially when the barrage that has resulted exhausts me.

    • Chrissy

      I couldn’t agree more! I was about to write that I don’t like that two of the questions relate to honesty…implying that to be honest is to be disagreeable. I have made a reputation of giving my honest opinion when it’s asked. (I don’t volunteer it if not, honesty is not always easy to take). There are ways to be kind even when telling a harsh truth. Often, telling the harsh truth IS the kind thing. My friends and coworkers know me as a person of honesty and integrity, and come to me when they want someone to be forthright with them.

      • gretchenrubin

        Honesty can be given in a helpful and warm way, and an honest opinion can be
        a wonderful way to give support to others. Even hurtful honesty can be
        constructive.

        Vaunting the importance of honesty, however, can also be a way for people to
        give themselves permission to be cruel and abrupt. I once worked for a boss
        who cloaked his rudeness in a commitment to honesty. There are some things
        that don’t need to be said, or that can be said in more tactful ways.

        As you say, “there are ways to be kind even when telling a harsh truth.” So
        true.

        • Surely you’re familiar with the truism that you should only say things that are at least two out of these three: truthful, helpful, kind.

  • MJDaniels53

    I have the feeling that this is a quiz nobody will want to take…or if they do take it, will fib to skew the results. Denial is such a wonderful thing.

  • Jeanne

    my husband always says – “if 50% or more of the people around you are pissing you off – it’s you.”

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great reminder! There’s a psychological term, “situation evocation”
      that I think covers that phenomenon.

  • Gretchin,

    Loved this post!

    I remember a young man that used to work for us. He and I really hit it off, and we’d talk about music and books and stuff. He was getting ready to go back to college and he said, “You are really easy to be around.” (It sounded like, “Wow, for an older gal, you’re kinda fun.”)

    I laughed and said, “Do you think maybe I’m fun to be around because YOU are fun to be around?”

    If you look around and have lots of friends, lots of emails, lots of messages, and a full calendar… that might be a good indication that you are fun to be around.

    And if, while reading this post, your stomach tightens a bit, that probably means that relating to others is a high priority, and you want to make sure you give it your best.

    … my stomach tightened 😉

  • Guest

    I think that tact and diplomacy are always a good idea. I do tell clients when I think they are making a less than optimum decision but I try to do it in a polite way. I don’t always succeed.

  • Umm, the person that you are referring to works in my office. How did you know?

  • fran

    Can i say that maybe, just maybe, the fact that their calendar is always full and you always received messages is cause you agree with every one and maybe, just maybe, everyone likes you cause you always agree with them.

    Once read something like:

    “People who pass by are he one we please, but the ones we hurt and challenge are the one we care for”

  • fran

    “People who pass by are the ones we please, but the ones we hurt and challenge are the one we care for”

    Wrote it wrong-

    • Dee

      Fran, you have no idea how much this post puts things in perspective for me. Thank you.

  • Meghan

    Lordy this was an uncomfortable post.

    As a self-aware difficult person, this is hard to take. I don’t want to be difficult. I try not to be difficult. Yet somehow I just end up being (perceived as?) difficult.

    Anybody else have this problem? You know it’s you but don’t know exactly why?

    I have been working on my relationships with others, and Gretchen your blog and book have been enormously helpful. Thank you so much for all of the great content you give us!

    Someday soon I hope to pass this quiz. 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      If you are this self-aware, you are probably far less difficult than most
      difficult people!

    • fran

      I’m actually like you. I find it that sometimes i even tire myself out. Then find me thinking what or how people actually perceive me.

      But I’ve been the goody buddy too, the one that doesn’t complain that much or doesn’t disagree or just keeps his mouth closed only to find myself at the feeling like I’ve cheated myself or something.

      I guess moderation is key, but i think is better to be true to yourself than liked by not being you.

  • Jen

    I’m afraid I answered “yes” to more than one of these questions, and they were all of the “people not wanting to listen to you” sort. I think I’m a pretty nice person – I’m sensitive to other people’s feelings to a fault, if you listen to my husband – but I do think that I might be a bit of a know-it-all. I have many friends, and people don’t shy away from me, but I think I might, ahem, share my vast store of knowledge more than I should. But I’ve become aware of this over the years and I do *try* to tamp it down. But there’s that kid in me that wants to be right, wants to be the first one with her hand in the air. It’s definitely not one of my shinier facets.

  • Sometimes there is a fine line between being difficult and being intense. And, do you think that answering yes to the 1st and 3rd questions above might indicate you are boring and not necessarily difficult? Ahh, but if everyone was witty, then no one would be especially witty…has to be a bore in every group.

  • HelenMacfarlane

    Very thought provoking questions! I’m having a hard time not wanting to email it off to a few people I know. Maybe we should add that. “Do you find you want to email Self Help articles to people in hopes that they’ll get the message?”

  • Mariah

    I come from a big family and have a sibling who only gets along with me. He claims that all our other siblings are selfish, uneducated, ignorant and jealous of him and oh yes collude against him so that is the reason he cannot get along with them. I just don’t see that in them and get along fine with all of them, I have in the past tried in a very kindly way to point out that his behaviour can often lead to the acrimony but he cannot see it and accuses me of being poisoned by them. I have also asked my siblings to try and cut him slack but they really don’t do anything mean they just don’t cater to his entitled, abrasive behaviour. Some people just have personalities that for whatever reason are off putting and they may never see the conflict they have with others is their own fault. Even if they look at this great list they will read it and say no to everything or fill it in for someone else! And yes I have thought several times he needs therapy.

  • fran

    I have a question Gretchen:

    I consider myself a though person to get along with. I’ll admit. Like Meghan i think how is anyone going to relate to me.
    But i mean what about if people around you are well; morons.

    I mean i all the time find myself with people ganging up against me in thing like popular believes in things like sports/religion and stuff between people. I mean i don’t agree with that about the 50% at all.

    For instance if i don’t believe that anything in my country (Puerto Rico) is the greatest team, candidate (or something) in history I’ll get gang up against.

    I mean i see how that makes me annoying , but if the other team is better i can see that. But if i said it out loud they try to eat me alive.

    So i guess what I’m saying is I’m right cause the other team wins, do they find me annoying i bet they do.

    So if I’m right why do y have to get their approval?
    Isn’t it obvious I’m seeing something their not.
    The thing i find is if i kept quiet in the end they be like, who knew.
    I’ll be like i did. But i didn’t stand for my believes.

    Whats your take?

    • TracyW

      Fran – my father gets away with fundamentally disagreeing with a lot of people on matters of politics, and still no one thinks he’s an asshole. I think he does it by nearly always having a big grin on his face, being polite even in the middle of fervent disagreement, and being obviously able to laugh at himself, along with being a generous guy in many other ways.

      For a start, do you best to act like someone who disagrees with you is someone intelligent who disagrees with you, rather than that they’re a moron. Note the use of the word “act”, I’m not going to get into any arguments about whether someone is a moron or not.

  • would have loved to see more on this gretchen! so if you are like that, then what? what do you do to understand how and why you are like that and how you could stop?

  • sashathehappinessprojectlondon

    Wow great but difficult post to read. I’m sort of known by my friends as the difficult one, but I tend to hold it like a sort of badge of honour, or an understandable reaction to the very difficult childhood I had. I agree with ricercar – if you are one of these people then how can one change? I would feel excruciatingly bad to be the source of others’ unhappiness!

    • gretchenrubin

      I will write more about this!

      I would think that KNOWING that you might be the difficult one is by far the
      most important step to being less difficult. So your self-awareness is HUGE.

    • MMM

      My mother is a very difficult person. Growing up I watched people avoid her. When I was first out on my own I started to be a lot like her. When I realized that, I decided to change. It was hard. I had to work against everything that came naturally. But it was worth it. I started by saying less, listening more, and taking cues from the people around me. Instead of being hurt when someone corrected my behavior, I tried to learn from it and not make the same mistake again. When I read through this quiz I found myself saying “not anymore” to many of the questions. It is a relief to realize that I have come a long way towards being less difficult. I know I can still be difficult sometimes, but I try to be aware of myself and how other people react to me. When I’m getting negative reactions, I try to change my behavior.

  • I really hope I’m not a difficult person to get along with…
    Really interesting theme!

    I answered “no” to all the questions, but I know it was different in the past!
    I worked a lot on myself to learn how to live with others 😉

    I can be a difficult person sometimes because of some traits of my character, but I hope I’m not always so terrible!

  • K.

    Oh my. This hit a nerve with me because I have a VERY difficult person in my life who could answer all of those questions “yes” and a few others who could out and out personify a few of the questions all on their own.
    Here’s my take: like Gretchen I say being honest doesn’t mean foregoing tact. Really, Chrissy and Anon, you never leave anything unsaid??
    Also, hear this, difficult people: don’t take things personally, act your age, use your common sense, follow your doctor’s orders, find some strength from within when necessary, and when problems occur, don’t keep trying the same song and dance and expect different results.
    And like Mariah brought up, therapy is something to consider.

    • fran

      I personally think is OK to respect people. But i don’t agree in the sense that i think what they’re saying is that when people do the same stuff wrong over and over, Isn’t it our job to tell them what is it, without sugar coating it.

      I will agree with you in the fact that tact should be included. But i think that honesty is some what of a loss art(people don’t say what they think that much anymore) i think people had replace it with is their life and don’t get their hands dirty anymore.

      I think that sometimes by being nice to people we do a disservice to them. I think sometimes tough love should be the answer. Sometimes by being nice we get nowhere. Sure people like us but…

      • abib

        I think I’d probably argue that it may not be your business. A lot of people who espouse ‘tough love’ are actually just telling other people what to do with their lives instead of letting them get on with it and keeping their nose out. I believe in everybody having the independence to make as many mistakes as they will make before they learn for themselves, in their own time, at their own rate. The only time it is good to give unsolicited advice is if the person it is delivered to is a minor. People over the age of 18 have the run of their own lives and should be left alone to do whatever the hell they want.

        But I’m one of those people that will just shut you out if you dare tell me what to do… so I am probably biased.

    • Mariah

      I completely agree with you being honest does not mean being tactless and to tell the truth is it really necessary when someone is wearing a blouse etc. you don’t like and asks “Do you like my new blouse?” to respond in the negative? No matter how tactfully you put it, it will be unhelpful. I have found the people I find difficult are not so because they are honest but because they often have a very weird way of seeing “the truth” For example, thinking that everyone is picking on them when in reality no one is or thinking that someone is hogging the conversation when they are interrupted only because they themselves have been going on at length for far too long. I don’t have difficulty with my friends tuthfulness, they are always kind about it and I am truthful with people when they ask my opinion and I know they sincerely want it (beware of those who ask but who do not want the truth!) I always really think hrough my answer so as to respond tactfully. People who score high yeses on this questionaire are bound to deliver the goods poorly that is if they see the truth clearly at all. I feel for you I too have a very difficult person in my life and it is really hard to live with sometimes.

  • scout

    The answer to all of these is very much ‘no’… unless you’re talking about me with my husband and kids – then there are a lot of ‘yes’s. Hmmm… :/

  • Michael Yanakiev

    Gretchen,….The questionnaire is some sort of cross-examination,but quiet
    relevant. Yes I am a difficult person! But i think you are not an easy going one yourself. However frankly speaking I am not a hopeless case,at least in my eyes,since there are many questions that I have to answer -Sometimes,to be dead frank. Being an intellectual I feel a bit egocentric ,
    but all of my kind are like that, to a certain extend. If one possess such a tremendous interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary knowledge as I do,
    one simply can’t help it. Otherwise nothing human is uncommon to me.
    It is interesting to know what can be done about it, since practically I can
    still survive anyhow?

    • jamie

      You can survive, but please don’t come anywhere near me at a party.

      • Michael Yanakiev

        Jamie! I will consider your advise most seriously and will watch my step.
        Enjoy your parties .

  • These are great questions! I think you are right, most people that are difficult don’t think they are, and this would be a great group of questions for them to see only to make them think about their own actions. Thanks for sharing!!

  • I bet everyone is getting REAL paranoid right about now :). I’m not the one that everyone finds difficult but I know who is. My brother!

  • mgreebs

    I had a typical reaction when I read this post. Worry, worry, worry. Am I difficult? What can I do about it?

    Then I started thinking about what this self-flagellation meant. While I am intense, I am always kind. And I never engage in some of the behaviors listed (making others squirm, devaluing people’s person lives, etc.).

    And then it hit me: Gretchen is describing the behaviors of bullies. And once again I am in a work environment where bullies are allowed to flourish. And once again I have left myself be sucked into believing that I am the problem.

    The issue, as I see it, is one of perception. Because what bullies are so good at is making their victims see themselves as the difficult ones in the relationship. Bullies get especially frustrated when you don’t actively participate in their agenda.

    I appreciate that this post got me thinking about how I help bullies meet their goals. I grew up in a family of bullies. I married into a family of bullies. It’s become my life’s work (seriously) to learn how to gently but firmly co-exist with them.

    Of course, at work you do have an option. I think it’s time I start thinking about looking for another job. But in the meantime I feel a bit more empowered to understand that to be considered difficult in the eyes of a bully is not necessarily a bad thing.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! One of the most difficult things that some difficult people manage to
      do is to make OTHERS feel like they are the ones being difficult,
      unreasonable, etc.

    • Spar-no-more

      Your point about bullies is very important, having recently been divorced from one. A bully can make you feel like the difficult one through their deft manipulations, public humiliations in front of relatives, devaluing your opinions in front of your own children. If someone will not work toward resolution of a problem, the frustration and unwillingness to stop working on what’s bothering you can make you feel difficult. You must see that the technique is to wear you down so nothing changes, hence, they win by default. I could no longer co-exist gently, or allow my children to have that relationship as an example of a satisfactory marriage. Good luck to you in standing up to your bullies. No one deserves to be bullied to fulfill the bully’s needs in any setting.

  • pamwalter

    Some of these questions are very interesting and cause for introspection. http://www.satisfiedsole.com

  • Gil

    This is of no help. How about suggestions? This just further hurts someone who feels disliked and wishes to change: perhaps they seek out an article like this and see themselves, but it offers no help.

    If someone is reading this and recognizing himself, he is prob. already open to the fact that he’s annoying. Why not offer constructive suggestions?

    • Annie Zirkel

      Gil,
      You might like this article How To Be Less Prickly ~ http://bit.ly/c37cUY
      It’s part of a series I wrote on Being Prickly.

      Hope it helps. ~ Annie

  • lindy

    I agree with Gil… any follow-ups?

  • Shelby

    I think the telling sign is when a difficult person doesn’t see themselve as difficult. When someone makes a comment and another will blow it all out of proportion and make it into something big.

    I have seen two difficult people in arguments, each one oblivious to their own traits. Unfortunately, it makes it difficult for everyone else especially if it’s at a gathering.

  • Seeking answers

    What a downer.  Ok.  So I am a difficult person.  Now what????

  • Whatevergirl

    WOW! You really have no fucking idea about hard to read people and how people treat them! YOU’RE STUPID! AND ANYONE WHO’D LISTEN TO YOU IS JUST AS RETARDED!

  • Julie

    So, obviously you’ve met a few members of my family. People come in all shapes and types: Difficults, Whiners, Worriers, Pot-Stirrers, Fixers, Door Mats, Clowns, True Gems and True Nightmares. Those you love with all your heart and those you wish would lose your number. But it’s important to remember that many times we only see one side of a person but we are all multi-faceted.
    Instead of an article pointing out how to find fault in ourselves and others, how about an article on how to reach out to that difficult person? That would truly be a gift to start the holiday season.
    So as you sit at across the table tomorrow from the Difficult one, or some other “special” person, instead of looking for fault ask them a simple question. “What’s your favorite childhood memory of the holidays?” I think you’ll suddenly see a diamond in the rough.

  • Andreea Raducan

    All I see is a bunch of people thinking higher of themselves than of the “difficult” ones… they don’t seem less “difficult” to me, but why not blaming the others?

  • rickyzg

    I disagree with article because 99% people on earth are having yes on more then one point. Don’t take this article seriously.

  • Bea

    Good stuff here I can say yes to some of these. Conversely
    I am not a people pleaser either or heavily co-dependent. Having said
    that there is a good deal for me to look at and work on…thanks

  • Dr. Edna Joyce Santos

    Not all personalities are the same. If I would have let any innuendo, gossip or criticism affect me then I will not be where I am now. I know that being straight forward could sometimes be annoying, but there are some situations that need to be addressed at the same moment and you will never have the opportunity to do it again. We should always keep an open mind and do not let the other person affect you. Constructive criticism should not be equated with being down-sized, unless deliberately and maliciously done in front of a lot of people. The proper thing to do is to take the person aside, have a private conversation with him and tell him from the start that you only have the best intention in mind, then point out what mistakes he has done and that he should try to correct them and not to repeat the same. This is how we gain the confidence of people. We reassure them that they could do better next time and believe me, they will be more than greatful for your concern.