The Survival Guide: How to Deal with Difficult People

We recently talked about dealing with difficult people at work, but unfortunately we run into difficult folks in other places, too. Want to cope with them better? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Figure out why you think they’re difficult. Often the people who annoy us most have the most to teach us and act like a mirror for us to learn from. Is there something for you to recognize in yourself that is making this person so irritating to you?

For example, I used to be a control freak, and I used to bump heads with other control freaks wherever I went. Now that I’ve softened that part of me, I don’t attract those people into my world as much, and when I do, my reaction is completely different. In fact, I often don’t even have a reaction.

2. Don’t take it personally. Yes, I just said someone might be a mirror for you to learn from, but that’s for you to figure out behind the scenes. In the moment, try to ignore the other person’s bad behavior. Know that they have their own thoughts going on, and very little about what they’re thinking about — if anything! — has to do with you.

Rarely do people deliberately torment others. It’s just a natural by-product of what they’re already thinking and doing.

3. Try to figure out something to appreciate in the other person. You will be amazed at how quickly someone’s grouchiness will turn around in the face of a compliment. This takes some practice — looking for something good in a person who’s annoying you — but it works beautifully and leaves both of you feeling much better.

It can be as superficial as complimenting an article of clothing, or as significant as acknowledging that they must care deeply about the issue in question and that you admire that passion. Even if you think they are nutty for caring that deeply about that particular issue, being able to care deeply about something is a plus, right? Validating their feelings can go a long way toward diffusing the situation.

4. Focus on the person’s humanity. The jerk at the grocery store might not seem like a human, but he is. Send love to the person: Not in the romantic sense, or even in the sense that you love your siblings or friends. Send the type of universal love that recognizes the humanity in all of us.

Similarly, try viewing the ornery person with compassion. Recognize that they might be going through difficulties you can’t begin to know about or understand.

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5. Surround yourself with an imaginary light bubble, an energy shield to protect yourself from bad behavior and bad vibes.  Know that any anger or other energy will just bounce off this bubble.  Similarly, you can visualize a waterfall surrounding you, one that swooshes away all bad energy into a river and eventually the ocean.

Sound crazy? Try it the next time you’re going to be at a family gathering with difficult relatives. I especially like the waterfall in that instance to cleanse the scene. Let me know how it works. You might just be surprised.

How do you manage difficult people? Please share your advice below.


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