We all have difficult people in our lives. You know—the ones you dread talking to; the ones you try to avoid at all costs. They may be your ex-spouse, a co-worker, or a family member; they may be a bully, a control freak, passive-aggressive or someone who loves to play the role of victim.
So, how do we deal with these people? How can we work together productively, whether in a parenting, a working, or a family relationship?
Here are a few secrets to being able to keep your cool when dealing with that difficult person in your life:
1. Know Your Triggers
Self-knowledge is powerful.
We all have subjects and idiosyncrasies that push our buttons, and I can almost guarantee that the difficult person in your life knows what those are—but do you? Spend some time exploring what really ticks you off. Is it when somebody talks about politics, money, or your family?
Once you have your list of those trigger buttons, you are ready to arm yourself.
Create a plan. What will you do when the conversation steers dangerously close to one of your buttons?
You can practice deep breathing, take a short time-out, walk away from the conversation, or any combination of the three. Whatever allows you to center yourself and regain your focus on the purpose of the conversation will work.
2. The STOP Phrases
If you are having a conversation with a difficult person and you just want it to end, these phrases seem to do the trick (or at least take the wind out of the other person's sails).
"Sorry you feel that way."
"That's your opinion."
"Perhaps you're right."
If you just repeat these phrases over and over during the conversation, eventually the other person will give up trying to get you to join the argument.
3. Resist the Temptation to get Sucked In
Difficult people want to engage you: don't fall for that trap. Listen to what you're saying: are you trying to justify, argue, defend, or explain your position? If you are, stop. If you don't, the conversation will just continue to go around in circles. You will never change the mind of a difficult person—otherwise you probably wouldn't be seeing them as "difficult."
4. The Big One
While the 3 secrets above can help you to avoid or get out of an uncomfortable conversation with a difficult person, there is one secret that can truly change your relationship with that person in your life: that secret is, that they are human, and are dealing with their own issues and their own crap that they're bringing to the table.
Their difficult behaviors are benefiting them in some way that helps them deal with those issues, and most of the time their behavior has nothing to do with you.
A person might feel more secure when they are bullying someone or controlling others, or they might feel a sense of importance when they're getting a lot of attention—even negative attention. They might try to gain a sense of belonging by playing the victim and getting others to help them, or someone who's inflicting hurt and provoking hostility might be trying to protect his own sense of identity.
If we take the time to figure out what unconscious beliefs may be behind someone's difficult behavior, we may be able to change our interaction with them and improve our relationship. Once you figure out what may be driving their behavior, you can begin to try different ways to help them get their emotional needs met without resorting to that behavior any longer.
The main idea here is to tap into your empathy pool and realize that the person you see as the bane of your existence is just another human being trying to get along as best they can.
A Final Thought
Yes, sometimes we have to disengage in order to save our sanity, but keep in mind that everybody is doing the best they can with the emotional tools they have at their disposal. It is possible to get past our reactions to their difficult behaviors so that we may be able to do our part in building a calmer, more productive relationship, and in the end, this is all we can truly control—our own reactions.
You never know—one day, you may actually look forward to seeing these people.