• Dr. Bill Walker

4 Strategies For Dealing With Difficult People

Who likes dealing with “difficult” people? What? No hands?

Difficult people frustrate, irritate, and even anger us.

They are difficult because they tend to disagree with us, argue with us, and believe only they know what is best.

Learning to deal with these ‘positive-energy-wreckers’ can be the difference between you having a good day or bad day. Consider these 4 strategies to keep your cool when you must deal with impossible family members, work friends, or strangers.

i. Stay in Control of Your Emotions

Some difficult people get a twisted satisfaction from making others lose control of their emotions. It’s about power. The words and actions of difficult people can result in you becoming irritated, angry, and emotionally unstable. What a power trip for them!

Strategy: Remember this truth: No one can MAKE you feel a particular way. Yes, our emotions can be influenced to varying intensities, depending on the behavior of another - but - you always have a CHOICE as to how you respond.

Ask yourself this question: Am I going to allow this difficult person to take my peace and good mood away from me, or am I going to choose to stay in control of my emotions?

Business leader Anindita Bose says, “Whenever I feel upset with such kind of people, before saying something that I might later regret, I take a deep breath and give myself a few seconds of time. When I feel I am completely calmed down, then I visit the problem and figure out the best way to deal with that”.

ii. Listen To Them

This may be the last thing you want to do but it can be a difference-maker. Listening to difficult people acknowledges and validates them. Once they feel acknowledged their need to be difficult may greatly lessen. People who feel unheard often push harder to be heard, i.e., they INCREASE their level of being difficult!

All humans have a need to be respected. Being ignored can lead to feeling disrespected. A person may become increasingly difficult in order to force others to listen, and thereby, acknowledge their opinions and ideas.

Strategy: Make sure the difficult individual has had a fair opportunity to be heard. If they have, yet continue to cause problems, there is likely some other reason for their behavior.

iii. Stay Focused On the Issue

Problematic individuals take the focus off the issue at hand and put it on themselves. This is often exactly what they want – attention. You know the old saying: 'Negative attention is better than no attention at all.'

How many millions of meetings have been derailed by a difficult person’s behavior hijacking the intended purpose and focus of the meeting?

Strategy: Stay focused on the problem. Keep bringing the conversation back to solving the task at hand. When a difficult person causes a meeting to bog down ask this question: “O.K., everyone. What is keeping us from solving this problem?” Then, go around the group and let each person identify reasons.

This strategy can be used in families, churches and businesses.

iv. Either Respectfully Hold Your Ground or Compromise

Difficult people often bully others as a means to getting their way. They use their difficult behavior to make you give in and give up.

Since they tend to believe their way is the best way they are often not interested in hearing your ideas. You have a choice: Hold your ground or compromise with them.

Holding your ground requires having clearly defined personal boundaries. Personal boundaries are the unwritten, but agreed upon rules regarding what behavior is acceptable between the members of a given relationship.

Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks gives these suggestions for maintaining strong boundaries:

*Be clear about your limits, and be strong in enforcing them

*Learn when to say no

*Be firm yet polite

*Do not go against your judgment just to please people

Boundaries will keep bullies from taking advantage of you and disrespecting your views.

What about compromise? Not every decision has to be a battle. Sometimes a situation can easily be resolved through compromise. Compromise should not be viewed as a loss. To compromise is to meet another person halfway. This means both parties are willing to negotiate the solution.


Christianly Speaking

Being respectful to difficult people can push you to the limits of your Christ-likeness. Yet it was Jesus who set the supreme example. At his unjust trial and resulting crucifixion, the Apostle Peter, who was a witness, later wrote,

"He [Jesus]did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly."

(1 Peter 2:23, NLT).

As God’s people we are commanded to deal in positive ways with people - ways that result in us setting a good example for others.

Romans 14:19 "… pursue the things which make for peace & the building up of one another."

Ephesians 4:29

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."


The Bottom Line

Difficult people can be difficult to deal with. The most important objective is to not allow their difficult behavior to negatively influence ours, but instead, to stay in calm control of our emotions and behaviors.

Before You Go

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Thank you,

--dr. bill