The Six Skills of Dealing with Difficult People

Photo by: Siavash Ghanbari on Unsplash

One thing that you will not be able to escape from life is interacting with difficult people. It seems like they are everywhere in your life – at work, at school, at home, at the gym, in your neighborhood, and yes, even in your religious community. Therefore, we all have, to some degree, difficult people that we have to deal with on a regular basis.

They come in all different shapes and sizes. They manifest their chaos in negativity, criticism, complaint, and judgmental attitudes. Some of them are emotional time-bombs which can go off at any moment. Others have habits such as passive-aggressiveness, people-pleasing or gaslighting tendencies, which do not help in building healthy and respectful relationships.

Difficult people, not only cause conflict, but they can fuel your anxiety and affect your emotional and mental health. It can further hinder you from being effective, productive, and living a focused, purposeful life because difficult people just suck the life out of you. You can try to avoid them, but the reality is that sometimes you feel stuck because you have to interact with them for work and other required context.

So, what can we do? Is there any hope for change without simply ignoring them? Stay calm. There is hope. Here are 6 skills (LOVING) you can implement into your life and your interactions with the difficult people that you face daily.

  1. L – LEARN more about them. You can call it empathy or compassion, but it is important to learn more about who they are and what they have experienced in their lives. No one comes into a relationship or a context with a blank slate. Usually, the person has experienced things that have affected them in a negative way, but have failed to address the trauma. People’s issues from their past always manifest in their current relationships. Therefore, if you are able to learn more about their life-story, then you can have a greater perspective and patience with them when they “act up.”

Next Steps: Take that person out for coffee and ask them to share their life-story. You can even ask a simply question, “What are several things that you faced in your life that you would say it shaped you?”

  1. O – OBSERVE trigger points. We all have triggers, which fuel a negative response. If we grew up with a critical parent, then when we hear criticism, we will have a visceral response. This is why it is helpful to know when this difficult person gets triggered. The more aware you are of that person’s trigger point, the more you can prepare your response and even redirect things. In the same way, you have to be able to observe your own trigger points. As you understand this for yourself, then you will be able to catch yourself before you lose control or lash out in frustration.

Next Steps: If you are having a hard time noticing your trigger points, ask someone who knows you and interacts with you often to point it out to you. Grow in your awareness. It does help if you keep a journal of your “trigger point” realizations.

  1. V – VALUE them as a person. One of the major reasons why a difficult person brings out the worst in us is because we get to a point where we lose our respect for them and start to devalue them as a person unworthy of our respect. When we get to this point, it is a slippery slope. Then bad emotions start to come out. We get angry, dismissive, resentful, and even revengeful. It is easy to then start using derogatory language and get condescending. It just adds fuel to the fire and the interaction becomes more toxic. Therefore, we need to start seeing that person from a different lens and see them as a valued person.

Next Steps: Try to ask yourself, “How would I want to be treated if I was going through some of the things that this person is going through?” Also, try to say and remind yourself of 1-2 things that are positive about that person. This helps to spark the perspective change.

  1. I – INVITE other’s input. There is power in agreement. When people are able to share the same thing that you are trying to address, it helps to build credibility and open doors for understanding. But this is no guarantee that the difficult person will respond well. In fact, they might feel like you are ganging up on them. This takes some tack and good timing, but if you are able to invite others to the situation and try to get a third-person point of view, then it might help to defuse some of the trigger points. It will also help to address some things in your life as well. As the old axiom goes, “It takes two to tango.”

Next Steps: Find people who are not afraid to speak the truth in love and people who know the both of you and the situation well, so that they can be the bridge.

  1. N – NOTICE your communication style. Our verbal and non-verbal communication can determine how the difficult person will respond to something. The more aware you are of how the person is responding, the easier it is to make adjustments. Certain words might present things as confrontational which will make the person defense. There is always a different way to say what you are trying to say. It just takes practice and sensitivity. Also, notice your facial expressions and even your body language. We communicate more through what is not spoken. The difficult person often is reading off your body language, therefore, neutralize it by being calm and consistent with what you are trying to get across.

Next Steps: Once again, it helps to have people pointing out things that you are unaware of because we have blind spots. It is like have a piece of pepper stuck in our teeth. We will never know unless we look into a mirror or someone points it out to us. Try getting feedback after an interaction and see in what ways you can improve your verbal and non-verbal communication.

  1. G – GAIN their trust and respect. When a person starts to feel like they are “losing” something, they will do everything to protect themselves. It is the natural “fight or flight” mechanism that we are hardwired with. But when there is trust and respect, then it is easier to work with difficult people, and you are able to speak into their lives. One way to build trust is to listen well and help them to see that you want the best for them. You can do this by building some “common ground” with the person. You can even do small things to show the person that you are trying to meet them halfway.

Next Steps: Find small ways to let them know that you are “for” them and not “against” them. It can come in the form of genuine compliments or small gestures of care.

Dealing with difficult people is a difficult thing. They exhaust you mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Nevertheless, you don’t have to allow the circumstances or your interactions with them drain the life and joy out of you. If you start implementing small actions toward building a stronger rapport, then there will be greater understanding and transformation in your relationship. Start with these 6 skills (LOVING) so that dealing with difficult people will not be so difficult.

  1. LEARN more about them
  2. OBSERVE trigger points
  3. VALUE them as a person
  4. INVITE other’s input
  5. NOTICE your communication style
  6. GAIN their trust and respect

Leave a Reply