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Dealing with Difficult People: Tips to Keep You Sane

Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives. We may be “stuck” with a difficult individual at work or at home. It’s easy to let a challenging person affect us and ruin our day. What are some of the keys to empowering yourself in such situations?

Difficult people do exist at work. They come in every variety and no workplace is without them. How difficult a person is for you to deal with depends on your self-esteem, your self-confidence, and your professional courage.

Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives

Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives

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You know the type. It’s the co-worker who seems like she’s out to get you. Or maybe it’s the family member who is just impossible to get along with. In figuring out how to deal with difficult people in your life, you need to make subtle changes to your thought patterns and incorporate a plan for action. While you can’t completely eliminate all difficult people from your life, you can minimize the impact they have. By incorporating these tips, you can really improve your chances of having a good encounter with an otherwise difficult person.

You want to get your point across, but don’t want to fuel the fire. Even if you know what to do, in a heated moment you must know what you are up against. You must think strategically if you want to get ahead and make the best out of your particular situation. A big part of that process is to stop, think and do the unexpected.
We all have encounters with people who prefer to stay miserable, making everything difficult. They exist, and perhaps there was a time in your past when you once where one of those negative people. Perhaps you still can be at times. As a former miserable person, I know it was my inability to handle my mental and emotional states that kept me oozing all over others. I felt so disconnected from life, living obsessively in my mind, that I truly felt helpless.

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Do you have someone at work who consistently triggers you? Doesn’t listen? Takes credit for work you’ve done? Wastes your time with trivial issues? Acts like a know-it-all? Can only talk about himself? Constantly criticizes? Our core emotional need is to feel valued and valuable. When we don’t, it’s deeply unsettling, a challenge to our sense of equilibrium, security, and well-being. At the most primal level, it can feel like a threat to our very survival.

Dealing with difficult people is easier when the person is just generally obnoxious or when the behavior affects more than one person. Dealing with them is much tougher when they are attacking you or undermining your professional contribution.

Some coworkers attempt to undermine you and you constantly feel as if you need to watch your back. Your boss plays favorites and the favored party lords it over you; people form cliques and leave you out. Difficult people and situations exist in every workplace.

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The first thing you need to do in dealing with difficult people is incorporate a change in your thinking. Doing this can be tough because many of us feel angry ourselves when someone directs hurtful words at us. But, it’s not about you. It’s about them and their reality. You can’t change their thinking, but you can change yours.

Life is a web of relationships. Human beings are social creatures, deeply entangled in countless relationships throughout life. It’s natural to gravitate toward those relationships that bring you the most happiness, growth, and fulfillment. However, despite your best efforts and intentions to the contrary, you’re sometimes forced to deal with challenging relationships and difficult people. Navigating these interactions can often result in stress, tension, and anxiety that negatively impact your mood and expose you to unpleasant emotional toxicity.
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When dealing with difficult people it’s important to remember that everyone you encounter is doing the best they can from their own level of consciousness. Therefore, try to avoid judging their behavior. No matter how it may appear from your perspective, few, if any of the difficult people in your life are deliberately trying to be the bad guy or villain. They are simply making the choices that seem best from where they find themselves in the current moment, regardless of the amount of mayhem it might bring into the experience of others.

Most importantly, if you are embroiled in a constant conflict at work, you may not only get blamed for being “unable to handle the situation like a mature professional,” you may be labeled as a “difficult” person, too. This label is hard to escape and can have devastating consequences for your career. Finally, if the situation continues to deteriorate over time, the organization and your boss may tire of you. The boss may decide you are a “high maintenance” employee, easily replaced with a more professional or cooperative person, and you could lose your job.

Difficult people haven’t yet learned to take responsibility for their whole selves—mind, body, and spirit. Feeling disconnected and restless gives rise to their need to argue, judge, critique, and tweak everyone around them.

Their inability to handle themselves adds fuel to the fire, which perpetuates their harshness. Underneath their personality is a feeling of being separate and a desperate plea for help. We can’t change another and we can’t make someone want to change. The only way we can help is by being true to our self, finding our power within, and being an example of wholeness.

People who irritate us usually have something to show us about ourselves.

It’s far better to address the difficult person while you can maintain some objectivity and emotional control. Constant complaining about the coworker or situation can quickly earn you the title of whiner or complainer. Managers wonder why you are unable to solve your own problems – even if the manager’s tolerance or encouragement of the situation is part of the problem.

Effective, Compassionate Practices

Be patient and tolerant

Naturally, when we are confronted with a rude, irritable, or irate person, we tend to avoid them. We think that if we avoid them they will go away, or at least we hope they will. The truth is that, although this may happen, it is much more likely that they won’t until we learn an alternate way of dealing with them. Negative energy has a force and it can knock us on our butt, usually in the form of us engaging in toxic behavior. If we are not grounded, we may find ourselves arguing, judging, or stomping out of the room. Making sure we are firmly planted in our body enables us to look the person in the eye and be completely present. It gives us the opportunity to remain calm and pause rather than engage in behavior we may later regret.

Look directly in the eyes

Darkness, negativity, can’t stand light, so it can’t remain in the light. Looking someone directly in his or her eyes dispels darkness. Your light pierces through the superficial persona to their being. The person walks away or stops talking. The conversation takes a more positive direction. We all want to be seen, from the cashier at Target to our spouse. Taking the time to look at someone offers them the greatest gift we have to offer: connection.

Maintain self-control. Avoid escalation of problem

The first rule in the face of an unreasonable person is to maintain your composure; the less reactive you are, the more you can use your better judgment to handle the situation. When you feel angry or upset with someone, before you say something you might later regret, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce, instead of escalate the problem. If you’re still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down.

Always start with self-examination to determine that the object of your attention really is a difficult person’s actions.

Always start with self-examination to determine that the object of your attention really is a difficult person’s actions.

Start out by examining yourself

Are you sure that the other person is really the problem and that you’re not overreacting? Have you always experienced difficulty with the same type of person or actions? Does a pattern exist for you in your interaction with coworkers? Do you recognize that you have hot buttons that are easily pushed? (We all do, you know.) Always start with self-examination to determine that the object of your attention really is a difficult person’s actions.

Breathe and Stay Calm. Understand and Communicate

When you’re confronted with someone who might be angry or sullen, one of the best things you can do is don’t contribute to the other person’s anger by escalating it with your own.

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Often, difficult people just want to be heard. Let them have their say and then respond with empathy. Use phrases like, “I am sorry you feel that way,” or “I can understand your situation and I sympathize.” The idea is just to listen.

When you’re involved with a difficult person, it can feel like their words are a deliberate personal attack. This is not the case. Their reaction and behavior is not about you; it’s about them. Everyone is experiencing reality through personalized filters and perceptions of the world and your behavior is a direct result of those interpretations.

Learn when to be silent

Some people are extremely closed-minded and impossible to talk to, but we need to speak to them. When I find myself in a situation with someone who just can’t hear me in the moment, I don’t force the issue. Trying to get my point across to someone that can’t hear me only escalates the situation. Sometimes the clearest form of communication is silence.

When you feel offended by someone’s words or deeds, come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may be tempted to think that my co-worker is ignoring my messages, or I can consider the possibility that she’s been very busy. When we avoid personalizing other people’s behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective on the situation can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.

Show Confidence, Not Rudeness

If you’re at work and your coworker is challenging your point of view, be ready with concrete evidence to support your perspective. If she questions your reasons for changing a policy, tell her your main reasons for doing so.


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