We all have them in our lives. It might be a co-worker, your boss, a sibling, a neighbour or a parent-in-law. When you are around a difficult person you often find yourself behaving differently. Maybe you doubt yourself, feel dismissed or powerless. Even brief encounters with them can leave you with the emotional equivalent of being knocked down by a hit-and-run driver.
So the big question is, how can we handle these challenging people in a way that diffuses the power they hold over our emotions?
Awareness of who they are, wherever possible preparing ahead for the encounter and a strong sense of self will help you to avoid being drawn into their web.
Knowing what kind of strategy they tend to use helps you to hold on to a strong sense of self and remain a calm presence in an emotionally charged field. Examples of common strategies are sarcasm, passive-aggressive behaviour, defensiveness, a need to be ‘right’ and therefore put-down others, a desire to control or manipulate, bullying behaviour or an air of superiority.
And then there are those people who are so good at getting under your skin that you don’t even know how they got there!
Three Tips On How To Deal With Difficult People:
- This may seem like a contradiction, but don’t be too quick to dismiss someone as ‘difficult’. I say this because a) if you decide they are difficult it will often prevent you from hearing some of the good stuff they have to say, and b) by labelling them as ‘difficult’ you are handing over the power to them. Instead, I suggest you reframe them as ‘challenging’ and figure out how you can dial down your emotional reaction.
- Minimise the time you spend with them and keep interactions short. The more you engage, the more you offer up a selection of avenues for them to choose from. Keep it short and logical.
- Let go of any dream you might have that you will somehow change them or convince them to be someone they are not. Accept them for who they are. There can be tremendous relief in that. A wise friend once told me to stop hoping X would behave differently in a certain situation because the person in question didn’t have the tools to deal with it any differently. This can be liberating. And it can free you up to focus on sharpening up your toolset so you can get your reactivity down. As always when in doubt breathe – slowly and deeply.