Three Ways To Deal With Difficult People

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I spent last week coaching a group of emerging leaders and a general theme that many of them are facing is how to deal with difficult people; you know, those people in our work lives or even in our families who rub us the wrong way. Regardless of whether they’re doing it purposefully or completely oblivious to the impact they’re having on us, they are still irritants. Often times we cannot avoid these people, especially if we work with them, work for them, or they’re part of our family. So how do you deal with them and stop allowing them to negatively impact your life? Here are three suggestions:

First, decide what you want. How do you want the situation to be different? If you could wave your magic wand and change the situation with them, what would it look like? Many people respond to these questions by putting the onus on the other person. For example, “If I could wave my magic wand, she would be a much kinder person” or, “he would be sensitive to my needs.” Since we know we cannot control how other people behave, turn that question back on yourself. What can you do to make the situation better? If you don’t like that someone is treating you rudely or being insensitive to your needs, what can you do to change that situation? This leads us to the second suggestion, which essentially has two parts:

Part one of the second suggestion on dealing with difficult people is to communicate your needs to them. Tell them what you need and what you want. Remember they may not see things from your perspective and may not realize they’re being insensitive or rude so try not to approach them from an accusatory standpoint. Use language such as “I feel disrespected because….” as opposed to “You’re being rude and disrespecting me”. Often times when we communicate our needs and concerns to people we label as “difficult”, they are unaware of their behavior and are open and receptive to feedback. However, that’s not always the case. That’s where part two comes in…

Part two of the second suggestion is to set clear boundaries. If your communication with them does not alter the situation, you have to set boundaries regarding what you’re willing to continue to deal with and what you’re going to avoid. Sometimes the best thing to do is avoid being around people who are constantly “difficult”. Other times you have no choice but to deal with them; however, that doesn’t mean you need to subject yourself to rude or insensitive behavior. Continue to speak up, share your feelings, and do what you can to set enough boundaries so you spend as little time with them as possible. We all have a choice as to those we surround ourselves with and, even if this person is someone you work for or someone in your family, you still can choose whether or not you want to continue to subject yourself to their “difficult” energy.

The final suggestion is to try to put yourself in their shoes. You don’t know what difficulty this person may be dealing with or what struggle may be ongoing in their life. Perhaps they’re under a great amount of pressure and are behaving as they are because they’re in a place of high stress or fear. This doesn’t excuse rude or insensitive behavior but we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all behaved in less than ideal ways when we’re struggling with something in our lives. Sometimes all it takes is you viewing the “difficult” person with some compassion for their behavior to stop impacting you. If you can put yourself in their shoes and have a sense of compassion, you might be able to view their actions with empathy versus anger.

Those are my top suggestions on how to deal with those irritating people who, on occasion, are bound to show up in your life.

How do you deal with difficult people? I’d love to hear some of your ideas and suggestions. Please feel free to comment and share your insights or visit us on Facebook to share your thoughts there.

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