Dealing With Difficult People
Staring at me with a look that could kill, Jenny argued every point. I didn’t even have a chance to finish my sentence before she started her tirade. As our conversation wore on, my blood boiled. I was her supervisor---but she treated me like I was a maid that couldn’t do anything right!
We all have had friends, co-workers, supervisors, neighbors, and relatives that we would label as “difficult people”. What do they have in common? They trigger a powerful, negative response in us! Mostly we want to avoid these individuals when we can. But mostly, we can’t.
What are the symptoms that you have a difficult person in your life? Feeling totally thrown off balance, acting crazy when you are usually in control, doubting your own perceptions, or feeling totally discounted, can be common responses to difficult folks.
Harriet Lerner, author of “Dance of Anger” notes that the problem is in the “eye of the beholder”. What is difficult for me might be easy for someone else. Each one of us, based on past experience and our “hot buttons” react differently to the same kind of person.
A recent article in Psychology Today (June 2012) by Hara Marano identified several types of difficult people—“The Hostile”, “The Neurotic”, “The Rejection-Sensitive”, and The “Egoist”.
Adults who are hostile are very low on the personality trait of agreeableness. They are often irritable, cynical and mistrustful of others. They have difficulty really seeing themselves as others see them and they are quick to blame others. They react intensely to almost everything!
“The Neurotic” adult tends to be anxious, negative naysayers who are very demanding. They are always convinced that something will go wrong, and as a result, they tend to always disagree with others around them.
“The Rejection-Sensitive” individual always feeling like a victim. They seem to have a perpetual chip on their shoulder. They continually feel that others don’t like them or are ignoring them and they don’t keep their conclusions to themselves!
Finally, Ms. Marano describes “The Egoist”. For these individuals, there are three important components to life—myself, myself and myself. They take everything personally and relate everything to themselves.
So what are some of her strategies to survive difficult people?
- Minimize time with difficult individuals. Sometimes easier said than done. Try to keep interactions brief.
- Be logical. Try to stick with the facts, and stay away from feelings. Be specific.
- Give up the hope that they will change. This is tough. We just keep hoping that the person will change their behavior. Difficult folks have to, 1) see that they are difficult and, 2) want to change. This doesn’t happen very often, so accept that they are unlikely to change.
- Avoid topics that are “hot buttons”. Stay away from topics that you know are going to elicit problems. Most of these topics are predictable.
- Stay calm. Getting angry just makes everything worse. Focus on your breathing---don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Use your head!
- Understand your own “hot buttons”. Knowing your own triggers are very helpful in anticipating your own strong reactions. What tends to set you off? I often react strongly to being ignored or discounted. I know that when this happens, I will probably feel angry. This helps me to settle down more quickly.
Do you have any great methods of coping with the challenging people in your life? Share them with the rest of us!