Difficult people can be found in all aspects of our lives. We encounter them at work, home, the store, and anywhere else people are. While a lot of our interactions with difficult people are dependent on productive conversation, we don’t always have the luxury of having deep conversations with them to work things out. It’s also important to remember that the label of difficult people is our perception of them. Because of this, we should note that we can’t change them and should work on our perspectives about them.
In an attempt to figure out a situation, labeling people and situations come in handy. Think of an initial fight or flight for survival. An angry bear chasing us through the woods is helpful to label for survival purposes. Labeling an angry coworker for the sake of labeling helps us less.
Archetypes exist from behaviors the other person demonstrates. We’ve all met “The One Upper,” “The Gossiper,” “The Been There, Done That” archetypes. While easy to label people according to their archetype, it’s the behaviors that bother us. The label only bothers us when we give it meaning.
It’s helpful to know what behaviors we do mesh well with and what behaviors bother us. Not for the sake of labeling, but to understand the other person a bit more.
Better to ask instead of assuming things about others. We don’t know their full story or journey for getting to the present moment. If there’s something you want to know, ask.
Whether it’s on a sheet of paper, phone, computer, it can be helpful to put your thoughts into words.
Thoughts that seemed like massive issues, might be smaller than you thought. And thoughts that might have gone unnoticed, might be great talking points for future interactions.
Figure out what you hope to accomplish by having to interact with this other person. Working towards a goal can be helpful to figure out how necessary or not your interactions are. If an interaction with the difficult person doesn’t contribute to your final goal, course-correct where that conversation might lead you. If appropriate, discuss the end goal with the difficult person.
As with most things in life, the scariest part is the unknown. The unknowns are the main reason for the stress that surrounds difficult people. If a difficult person has known patterns of behavior and triggers, try and predict ways to navigate around them. Intentionally walking into possible toxic interactions isn’t a great idea.
The way we speak with a difficult person can make a world of difference. "Inclusive" language might start with, “How can we…” or, “I noticed that we’re having trouble communicating about…” It takes the focus off of the other person and is easier to avoid judgments.
Although it might seem like an oversight, rewarding, and recognizing others is a simple way to gain rapport with a difficult person. It moves us from the stranger zone to a friendlier zone.
Before any difficult interaction, remember to breathe. Taking 4-5 deep breaths before starting a challenging conversation can be extremely helpful.
Playing messages in your mind that it’ll be okay, can shift your focus from stress to success.
Not all interactions will be improved with positive self-talk, but it certainly puts you in a better place to succeed.
Before a difficult conversation, remember to practice grounding techniques. This might come in the form of connecting with your 5 senses, breathing, imagining what success looks like, etc. Anything that connects you with the present moment, can be helpful.
Focus on what the person is doing, as opposed to the person. For example, “I dislike this behavior this person does.”, or “Is this behavior worth my stress?”
Because it’s your mental health.