Six Easy Ways to Deal with Difficult People

Do you ever feel like you are wearing a button on your chest that says “push here to aggravate, annoy or bother me?” While we can probably all relate to this feeling at times, the situations, events or behaviors that aggravate, annoy and otherwise bother us vary from person to person, and sometimes even vary from day to day.

We all know a few people with very difficult behaviors. While you can’t change other people, you can control how you react to them. Here are six easy ways to effectively deal with challenging or difficult people in your life.

Challenge your thought patterns
Misunderstandings are a major cause of conflict in relationships. Misunderstandings occur when we carry around negative thought patterns and make assumptions, rather than check for facts. If you find yourself making negative assumptions about another person, try converting it to a positive assumption on purpose, even if you don’t know that person. Don’t let yourself get upset by your own thoughts and assumptions.

Discard your win-lose attitude
Believing that there is a winner and a loser in all situations means you perceive your interaction as a competition or a game you must win rather than a constructive exchange of information. If you see that another person has a win-lose attitude, you may feel this person always wants to walk away the “winner,” and therefore you have to defeat them in order to make the situation better. Don’t buy into that mindset, and don’t get hooked in when someone else baits you into game-playing in interactions. See the hook coming, and decide not to bite.

Assess your own behaviors
In every relationship it is important to be aware of our own difficult behaviors. It’s easy to allow our own faulty thought patterns to add problems to situations. Each one of us has undoubtedly been difficult at one time or another. Accept and admit when you have days when you’re not in top cordial form. We all have bad days. It is important to be aware of how we may react to stressful situations and what may be our triggers for becoming difficult. By assessing your own difficult behavior, you’ll be more compassionate when others behave difficultly.

Develop detached concern
Sometimes it’s hard not to overreact, so before you approach another person with whom you have difficulties, get ready to distance yourself from their words and actions. Take a deep breath, and get ready to take a detached, impersonal view. Remind yourself that you are not always their target. This person probably behaves this way with many others. It’s probably a bad habit they have yet to break. While still valuing the relationship, one easy way to minimize conflict is to remind yourself that you are free to change the nature of the interaction by not reacting.

Pick the right time and place
Try not to confront people in public or when it appears they are very busy. An ill-timed confrontation can often make the person’s behavior worse. Plan ahead, pick the right time and have a solid sense of what you want to say and how you want to say it. Also, ask yourself whether you have the time and motivation to engage this person and attempt to change our interactions right now. Determine whether your efforts will be fruitful. As the saying goes, choose your battles.

Show respect
In a situation with a difficult person, the worst you could do on your part would be to match their negative attitude or behavior. Approaching and addressing the other person with respect reduces the tendency to them to become defensive or defiant. Address the other person by name. Look at them directly. Then, listen carefully to what they have to say. Showing honest respect for their opinion is not the same as agreeing with them, yet it is a powerful and simple tool to strengthen any relationship.

About Centerstone
Centerstone, a not-for-profit organization is the nation’s largest provider of community-based behavioral healthcare. With a history that spans over fifty years, Centerstone provides a full range of behavioral health and related educational services to more than 64,000 individuals of all ages and their families annually. Children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and families all receive help from a multitude of different programs in more than 120 facilities and 150 partnership locations in Tennessee and Indiana. Centerstone is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) in Tennessee and The Joint Commission in Indiana. For more information about Centerstone, please call toll free at (888) 245-1628.

About Susan Bryant, MEd, LPC, CTS
Susan Bryant, Centerstone Crisis Management Specialist, primarily works in the field with clients in critical incident response situations, and in Centerstone’s wellness trainings and presentations. She is also responsible for planning and implementing marketing and growth strategies for Centerstone’s Crisis Management Strategies.

In recent years, Ms. Bryant worked for the Shelby County Government Victims Assistance Center in Memphis. There, she co-developed a model program for the state of Tennessee entitled, “Homicide Response.” Her work in this area received the 2000 Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.

Ms. Bryant is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Trauma Specialist, Certified Workplace Conflict Mediator, and Mental Health Service Provider in the state of Tennessee and a National Certified Counselor. She is also a member the American Counseling Association, the Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists, the Tennessee Mental Health Counseling Association, and the Middle Tennessee Employee Assistance Professionals Association. She is a frequent presenter at local and national conferences, and has had numerous articles published. She received her Master of Education degree in Human Development Counseling from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.


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