How to deal with difficult people
Sorry to mislead you, but the honest truth is - you can’t.
You cannot ‘deal’ with anyone other than yourself. The more you try and deal with them the more anxious, frustrated and powerless you will feel. Stop focusing on them and how difficult they are and shift your attention to yourself and how you can be when you are dealing with someone that you find tricky to be around.
We come across difficult people in every area of our lives; a colleague, your teenager or toddler, a customer, your in-laws or parents...they are everywhere. They can make your life very stressful and generate a lot of negativity within you, keeping you awake at night thinking of all the things you wish you could have said at the time. You feel angry and resentful, anxious or intimidated. You take it out on yourself and the wrong people.
If you acknowledge that you find a particular person, or even a situation, difficult, you can prepare yourself, give yourself some options and change the way you interact with them.
For myself, I know that I will have an extremely strong reaction to someone not listening to me. It triggers my feelings of frustration, powerlessness and hurt that I experienced as a child when I was not listened to. I feel small, unimportant and want to hide and not deal with them as it is pointless anyway.
So, it is important to learn to deal with difficult people.
Try these suggestions and see how you get on.
1. The most important step - shift your focus
Stop seeing them as difficult people. Change your language and say “.... is someone that I find difficult to deal with.”
Although this may sound pedantic, it gives the power back to you. They are still difficult and I am sure lots of other people agree with you that they are difficult, but changing your sentence changes your point of view and gives you loads more choices about how to deal with them.
Resist the temptation to criticise yourself for finding them difficult. We all find some people difficult – you are not alone in this.
2. Respond rather than react
The reason you find some people difficult is because you have a strong emotional reaction to them. They ‘make’ you feel anxious, small, irritated or powerless. There is something in their attitude that is triggering off old emotional reactions, like me when someone ignores me.
In these situations the emotional part of your brain overrides your rational, logical brain and you become emotional, feel small and get stuck struggling to control your emotional reactions rather than dealing with the situation as it is.
The next time you are dealing with someone you find difficult (choose a relatively easy one to start with), stop focusing on them and how they might be and bring your attention back to yourself.
Set your intention before you interact with them
Very often we will try and modify our attitude so that we can keep the peace, following the line of least resistance or taking the easy way out. We can’t think quickly or get flooded with anger or fear.
All of these are signs that the adrenaline levels (anxiety levels) are too high, causing your body to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Once this happens your emotions are definitely in control.
So set your intention to:
Control your anxiety.
Take a deep breath and really ground yourself – feel your feet in your shoes and stay connected to the ground or the chair that is supporting your weight.
Don’t expect to feel completely calm. A bit of adrenaline will be helpful, but it is important that you keep control of your bodily reactions.
Let go of the outcome
Do not pay any attention to what the outcome is – you can always go back and change your mind about something that happens in the conversation. As you become more assertive with the people you find difficult you can begin including a particular outcome in your intention.
In the early stages it is important to not have a particular goal or outcome, other than you controlling your anxiety. There are lots of reasons for this, but most importantly when your adrenaline levels are under control you will be thinking more clearly, will set achievable goals and are far more likely to be able to negotiate and compromise, find an outcome suitable for you both or simply realise that there is no dealing them as they will not meet you half-way.
3. Stop Engaging With Them
Find a way to let their comments slide over you. Coat yourself in Teflon, form a bubble round yourself or find another image that works for you. Use a scarf, a piece of jewellery or jacket as a shield to protect yourself and stop engaging with them.
Become an observer of these people. Stand outside of yourself and observe what they are saying and how they are behaving. Be interested and curious (a fantastic antidote to anxiety in any circumstances).
Start a commentary in your mind “that’s a weird”; "I wonder why they feel they have to speak like that to me? That’s rude!”; "I’m not like that, or it wasn’t like that”. Essentially seeing what they are doing from a dispassionate point of view. Acknowledge that you hear what they are saying, but resist the temptation to justify, explain or defend yourself.
It may or may not be useful to remember that critical people are far more critical of themselves than they ever are of other people.
Stay very connected to your compassion and stop being judgemental of them. As they say, two wrongs don’t make a right (and you can be the one to walk away with your head held high).
There is never any excuse for bullying or abusive behaviour. Get help and support from friends, family, work colleagues or professionals to deal with these people. It is very, very difficult for anyone to deal with abusive, bullying behaviour on your own.
Related articles from our experts
- Persona vs shadow: The hidden side to us
Daljinder Bal (MBACP)22nd March, 2017
- The vicious cycle of isolation
Gary Parsons, MBACP (Registered), MNCS (Accred)11th March, 2017
- Anxiety and its best friend depression
Mary Dees, MSc, Diploma TA Psychotherapy, Registered Member MBACP10th March, 2017
- Reactive and responsive relationships
Graeme Armstrong MBACP21st March, 2017
- How psychodynamic therapy helps to break the cycle of unhealthy relationships
Margery Parsons, d.c.t.p., UKCP reg.20th March, 2017
- Relationship issues and couples in gestalt therapy
Richard Dennison19th March, 2017
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.