Second in Series: 3 Quick Tips for Handling Difficult People

Have you ever known someone who, just by appearing before you, annoys the living daylights out of you?
Every time she opens her mouth you cannot fathom what confluence of thoughts could have led to her inane statement. When he comes up with what he believes to be a brilliant idea, you realize in just how many ways he has misread a situation. Perhaps she is the type to assert her own agenda at every turn. Or, you find you have to walk on eggshells around him, as he seems to be offended simply by the mention of how nice the weather is outside.

Difficult people. We all know them. My previous blog began a series in which I will discuss different strategies for handling difficult people. (Please see blog 10/24 for a definition of “difficult people”.)

While we will discuss in coming weeks the different types of difficult people, the first step in successfully handling difficult people begins with ourselves.

Why do certain people trigger us, but others find them pleasant? Why do we enjoy some people who exasperate our colleagues? And even more to the point, how do we avoid getting drawn into the orbit of difficult people in a way that hurts our own career?

1. Know thyself!

The better we understand our own triggers, our own history, and our own ways of dealing with conflict, the more successfully we will be able to handle the potential pitfalls of difficult people.

2. Don’t dance.

A friend of mine describes what happens when we get overly involved with the drama of a difficult person as “dancing.” We cannot always avoid a difficult person, but we need not engage ourselves at a personal level. Depending on how we feel about conflict, we may find the battle with another exciting. We allow ourselves to feel provoked. One way in which I have helped some of my clients is by identifying the sense of righteous anger that leads us into battle with a difficult person. The trick is figuring out how to respond to him/her without taking anything personally. Even when people speak to us and accuse us directly, unless they are right in their observation, we can see how their aggravation has more to do with their own issues than with our actual actions. By remaining emotionally uninvolved, we can keep ourselves from dancing.

3. Have compassion.

As we learned in the last blog, difficult behavior is often borne of anxiety. Take a moment to understand what anxiety may be causing the other to exhibit annoying behavior. Try to feel compassion for the angst s/he may be experiencing. Also, take a moment to have compassion for yourself. We can never respond with 100% perfection to stressful situations. We need to respect our own anxiety, as well.

Next week, we will begin discussing the different types of difficult people we may encounter.

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