Dealing With Difficult People
We all have the friend, family member, co-worker or just the guy in front of the line at Starbucks. Our initial reaction wishing they would go somewhere else with their negativity, disappear or the aggressive approach of wanting to smack them in the face and tell them to get over themselves. Usually none of that happens.
Sometimes, it may be possible to appease or avoid those people short term. Dealing with them in the long term, however, can be exhausting. The behavior of difficult people can make you feel like losing your temper, going for the need to be right or taking the passive approach of trying to avoid them altogether. None of those options work indefinitely. Staying calm is the first step, especially when you are ready to confront them.
So how do you do that? Avoiding a difficult person can prove to be impossible and not in your best interest, especially if you live or work together. Likewise, attempts to steer clear of them can become a source of stress and anxiety when they are a part of your social circle of family. If you can, avoid being judgmental or defensive, and try to approach the conversation objectively.
If the person is open to the idea, try coming to an agreement. If that fails, let it go and move on. There is no reason to let a difficult person or situation have power over your well-being unless you allow it.
Since I unfortunately have the personality that do not suffer fools well, I thought that doing some research was a good way to find out what the experts say about dealing with difficult people. Here are a few helpful guidelines I think have a lot of merit.
Tips for dealing with difficult people
- Resist the urge to judge or assume. It’s hard to offer someone compassion when you assume you have them pegged. He’s a jerk. She’s a malcontent. Everyone has a story and you do not know what their personal life is like. They are accountable for their behavior but if you can hold a scenario in your mind and heart of what they may be going through or have been through, your body language and words may become more compassionate.
- Maintain your positive boundary space. When their negativity is too strong to protect your space, you need to walk away. Just try to help them feel more positive about the encounter and not expect them to act more positive because of it.
- Disarm their negativity even if just for a moment. Try to listen compassionately for a short while and then try and steer their focus on something more positive in the moment. Ask about their upcoming birthday or how beautiful it is outside. Totally disarms the negative energy flow. Don’t try to solve or fix them. Just aim to ease the negativity.
- Don’t fall down their negative rabbit hole. Negative people often gravitate toward others who react easily with compassion or get outraged or offended. It gives them a little light in the darkness of their inner world, the feeling they’re not floating alone in their own anger or sadness. People remember and learn from what you do more than what you say. Don’t get hooked into the conversation. Change the subject to something completely non-committal and even ridiculous! It will stop them in their tracks and you can make a graceful exit.
- Question why you are engaging? Get real honest with yourself: have you fallen into a caretaker role because it makes you feel needed? Have you maintained the relationship so you can gossip about this person in a holier-than-thou way with others? Do you have some sort of stake in keeping the things the way they are?
- Don’t take it personally, but know that sometimes it IS personal. Wisdom suggests that you should never take things personally when you deal with a negative person. It is always a little more complicated than that. You can’t write off everything someone says about you just because the person is insensitive or tactless. Even an abrasive person may have a valid point. Try to weigh their comments with a willingness to learn and accept that you don’t deserve the excessive emotions in someone’s tone, but weigh their ideas with a willingness to learn.
- Accept the relationship based on the reality it is. Stop wishing or trying to change them and accept the fact if they want to be miserable, that is how they choose to live their life. You on the other hand have the power to play or not to play, whereas they don’t at the moment.
Susan Z’s Verdict
Unless you live in a hut on an island by yourself, you are going to have to deal with difficult people at some point on your life journey. They are going to throw up all their negativity on anyone within reach, just make sure you don’t hold into the leftover green pieces so you can bitch about them later.
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Susan Z Rich is an emotional addiction counselor, spiritual intuitive and holistic therapist. She counsels others to see life in a more positive way and teaches personal accountability for life choices. She is also the author of several children’s books and Soul Windows…Secrets From The Divine.