Everyone has coworkers and family members they adore and those they suspect must have come from another planet, they’re so difficult, obstinate and set in their ways. Navigating through life without dealing with difficult people proves well nigh impossible. Whether the workplace Debbie Downer tries to make her misery love company or whether Uncle Elwin can’t make it through Sunday dinner without starting a food fight, sometimes folks seem like flaming balls of negativity hell-bent on spreading grumpiness.
Writers have penned countless articles on how to deal with difficult people, but few focus on what not to do. Yet psychology tells us that certain triggers can make those who normally act a bit gruff turn postal. Keep your inner zen when dealing with those you’d rather not with these tips.
Don’t Lose Your Cool
Dealing with difficult people puts anyone on edge. The human nervous system conditions us to react to perceived threats with a fight-or-flight response, and adrenaline racing through our veins can make losing our cool easier. Whenever possible, aim to have conversations with those known for their temper during the time of day when you have the most energy and are able to think with a level head.
When addressing volatile issues, avoid hyperbolic language which ignites touchy tempers and focus on finding common solutions. Acknowledge emotions surrounding hard-to-deal-with events like downsizing at work. When managing tough conversations such as informing a colleague they need to improve their performance, sandwich the negative portion of the review between compliments of what the individual does well.
Don’t Get Held Hostage
Toxic people find ways to interject themselves into the lives of those they target however possible. Try to distance yourself from drama kings and queens whenever possible. If contact proves unavoidable, keep conversations positive and brief. If Aunt Edna believes in fundamental Christianity, for example, Sunday brunch may not be the best time or place for an abortion debate.
Don’t Pretend It’s Okay
As much as most of us cherish keeping the peace, normalizing inappropriate behavior only increases outbursts as the difficult person learns what they can get away with doing and saying. Address prejudicial or unhelpful speech with a simple, “I will not tolerate (whatever the offending behavior was).” This allows you to stand up for what is right without demeaning or belittling the other party. Learning how to confront behavior without condemning the person.
Don’t Get Personal
Most of the time, those who behave negatively toward us don’t intend to insult — they’re dealing with stress in their own lives poorly. Keep in mind the office Negative Nancy doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking, “How can I irritate the heck out of my coworkers today?” Maybe she woke up with a headache for the third day in a row, or maybe her roommate moved out abruptly leaving her struggling to pay rent.
That said, learn how to set firm boundaries when it comes to your time and emotional health. Certainly display empathy, but know when to say, “As much as I’d love to continue this convo, I have this and that to complete.” Chances are, the person hogging up your space with their negativity will move on to more sympathetic ears.
Don’t Give Them Free Rent
Most importantly, learn how to make like Elsa from “Frozen” and let it go. So often, we allow those who frustrate us the most live rent free in our minds long after our encounters with them end.
Remember, any insults uttered or ridiculous, hyperbolic accusations stem from time already passed. As the Three-Eyed Raven of “Game of Thrones” would say, “the ink is already dry.” You can’t change the unpleasant encounter, so don’t let it keep you up at night. Derogatory comments reflect more upon the speaker than the object of their unjustified attack.
Choosing the Drama-Free Life
Dealing with difficult people makes many of us rip out our hair. But when we take a step back, look at the situation objectively and avoid behaviors which further escalate conflicts, we can learn to coexist. We humans may not like everyone we encounter — but with a bit of empathy and understanding, we can all get along.
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