Dealing with Difficult People

We have all been there. Whether within our own families, at work, purchasing something at the local mall, or in a social situation, we have all had to deal with difficult people. And, as much as we may wish we could wave a magic wand to defuse the situation, there are no surefire, failsafe ways to effectively handle argumentative or confrontational people. We can try a host of different tactics that may or may not help. In the end, though, the only real control we have in these instances is over our own emotions, words, reactions, and actions.

Remaining cool, calm, and collected when dealing with difficult people can help. The more we maintain our composure and the less combative we become, the more level-headed we will remain and the better we will be at managing conflict and discord. Obviously, this can be a lot easier said than done.

Below are a just few suggestions you may find helpful the next time you interact with someone who tests your patience. Of course, these ideas may not apply or work well in every situation.

A few helpful suggestions…

Separate the person from the behavior

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a reason why they act the way they do. Usually, people are difficult because they are in a foul mood or perhaps believe it will help get them what they want. Their actions do not necessarily mean they are cruel, uncaring people.

Nothing justifies behaving badly, and we certainly don’t want to support bad behavior. But, concentrating on the issue at hand – rather than seeing the other person as a demon – will move you a lot further along the road to resolution.

Try not to take things personally or become defensive

It can be challenging not to feel injured emotionally by someone else’s negativity. Difficult people often seem to be trying to make others feel uncomfortable, inadequate, and incompetent. Just because someone voices something negative does not mean there’s any truth behind a verbal assault.

No matter what words may be thrown your way, keep in mind the anger and aggression in those words reflect poorly on the person voicing them… NOT on you. Do not let someone else’s inappropriate behavior affect your confidence or make you feel responsible when you are not. Avoid falling into that trap.

Change the focus by being proactive instead of reactive

Some difficult people are like a revolving door, they go round and round in the same direction, in the same spot, and never get anywhere. Some want to draw out the drama and tension in a negative interaction. You do not have to follow their lead.

You can interrupt the pattern of conflict by creating a distraction that takes the conversation in a completely different direction. Sometimes, simply changing the subject can help ease tension surprisingly fast. Try asking the person a question that has nothing whatsoever to do with the current discussion or bring up a safe topic you know everyone will agree on or have in common.

No matter what words may be thrown your way, keep in mind the anger and aggression in those words reflect poorly on the person voicing them… NOT on you. Do not let someone else’s inappropriate behavior affect your confidence or make you feel responsible when you are not. Avoid falling into that trap.

Keep your sense of humor

Humor can be an extremely effective way to neutralize difficult behavior, soothe anger, and diffuse tension. Look for something funny about the situation that the other person will also find comical.

The goal is to laugh together, not at one another. That way, the confrontation may end with both parties happy and without one or the other having to be “right.”

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