By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
Dealing with difficult people — yikes! We all know a few and run across our fair share. What is it with them? You’re quietly and happily going about your business, and they sweep across your day or your life with a tornado of fault finding, pot stirring, and can’t-be-pleased-no-matter-what negativity that leaves you feeling stressed, dismayed and sometimes even hopeless.
As my grandmother used to say when she came across a difficult person, “When they die they’re going to be complaining about the weather in Heaven!”
I think my precious Grandma was right!
From nosy cab drivers to rude store clerks and restaurant servers, we can give them a double dose of graciousness and kindness to try to win them over from the dark side. 🙂
If that doesn’t work, we say goodbye and find solace in the fact that we won’t have to deal with them again.
Yet what if the difficult ones are close to us: an in-law, boss, co-worker, neighbor, sibling, parent, friend, or anyone else we can’t choose to ignore?
In these cases, it’s time to bring out the gold standard (manners) for living out the Golden Rule.
Without it, we aren’t going to have much luck navigating through the thick fog of negativity that will settle over us when they interact with us.
With it, we’ll discover healthy boundaries that we have every right to erect and protect.
People with great manners are always the first ones to lay out the Welcome Mat; but we also have the dignity to not allow ourselves to become a doormat.
Here are five things you can do when dealing with difficult people that will make sure they’re not wiping their feet on you and your feelings.
The 5 Manners of Dealing with Difficult People
1. Take a Non-Defensive Position
It’s natural to want to defend ourselves by giving back in equal measure the treatment we’re receiving. However, that’s not going to help us in the long run. It’s going to make things worse.
Let difficult people talk to you without interruption. (I know it’s hard!)
Since they’ve come to you, they already have a script in their head for what they’re going to say. Let them say it.
It’s actually to your advantage because you need the time to gather your thoughts to be able to offer a reasoned response instead of an emotional gut reaction.
This is the time to practice the popular saying “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
You need a resolution, and resolutions don’t grow in emotionally charged soil.
Resolutions sprout from a garden of logic and composure.
When blindsided by someone, it might take time before you can be objective. That’s fine. Say something along the lines of, “You’ve brought up things that I need some time to consider before I comment.”
2. Help Them Exchange Generalities for Facts
Difficult people tend to overgeneralize. They talk about how you or so-and-so ALWAYS do this, or NEVER do that.
If there’s a kernel of truth in what they say, go ahead and agree with that specific thing. But then shine the full truth on the matter.
To your sister-in-law, you might say, “Kendra, you’re right. I did let your birthday go by without acknowledging it. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I know that doesn’t make you feel any better. I’m truly sorry. I’ve never forgotten your birthday before. Last year, I baked the lemon bars you like and bought you the spa package. Before that, it was Cara and I who organized your surprise thirtieth-birthday party. Your birthdays are something I celebrate.”
For people who are difficult because they are always asking you questions that are none of their business, here’s a post about How to Graciously Answer Nosy Questions.
At work, let’s say you’re standing up for a late co-worker your boss is talking about. “Rebecca, Jack has been late twice recently, but it’s not a habit. Most mornings, he’s here on time or early. And he always stays late to help. He has shared that his wife and he only have one car now and they both have to get to work and get the kids to school. Jack has a great work ethic. This will be a temporary situation until they get a second vehicle.”
3. Understand that Your Body is Saying More than Your Lips
These statistics might be staggering, but they’re true: only seven percent of the message you deliver is received by others through the words you say.
93 percent of it is through your: body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, what you’re wearing, where your eyes are looking when speaking, your general appearance, how you’re standing, and other things. It’s called the 55-38-7 Rule and it is especially important to keep in mind when speaking to difficult people.
It’s easy to get worked up. Even though we want resolution (going back to point number 1), if we aren’t coming from a point of calm, objective, reasoned thought, our body is going to give away that we aren’t sincere at the moment. So take some deep breaths and have planned out the main points you want to express to the person.
4. Consider the Personal Cost
In most cases, you’re not going to be able to change difficult people into easy people. Clear up one thing with them, and in a few weeks it will be something else.
Everything has a cost. Is this particular thing you’re about to talk to them about worth the cost of the stress of the conversation and the possibility of deepening a divide between the two of you?
There are times when it’s absolutely worth the price. And there are times when you need to come to the place where you consider your encounters with the person one of life’s annoyances like morning traffic or allergy season.
How do you decide whether to confront someone about the difficulties they’re causing you? Answer these questions for yourself: “Will a change in the person’s behavior contribute to the things that matter most to me?” “Is what the person said or did going to have any effect on who I am, how I think about myself, or how people who know and really love me will perceive me?” If you’re like me and find it hard to say no, this post on Three Ways to Nicely Say ‘No’ Without Feeling Guilty will come in handy for you.
5. Choose What Power You’re Going to Give the Person Over You
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” It’s also true that no one can continually be the thorn in your side unless you choose to leave them there.
If someone is making your life miserable, it’s not impolite to part ways. It’s smart. Friendships end. People transfer to different departments at work or change jobs. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than daily misery.
We’re called to be loving, gentle, kind peace-makers, but it takes two. If difficult people won’t do their part, you’re banging your head on the wall. Stop before you give yourself an emotional concussion. If you find yourself dreading your days because the other person always finds something to complain about, here’s How to Graciously Handle Constant Complainers.
In family situations, counseling, of course, should occur before a relationship is broken. You don’t want to cut ties to your brother because his wife is difficult. If your brother won’t go to counseling with you, go alone. Pray about the situation earnestly. You want to be able to look yourself in the mirror and stand before anyone secure and true in saying, “I did everything I could to restore the relationship, but it hasn’t worked, yet.” (Remember, until someone dies, there’s always hope. Keep praying.)
THIS IS A BIGGIE:
Know that what difficult people do usually has more to do with them than it does with you. You just happen to be the unlucky person in front of them. Their actions are a result of their issues, not yours. Don’t blame yourself or think less of yourself.
On the other hand, we all need to check ourselves. Are there those who rightfully can call us a difficult person in their lives? Think about it. I bet if we asked a difficult person, “Are you difficult?”, they would look at us like we were crazy and say, “Of course not!” Could we be difficult to someone and not even realize it? It’s something we should consider. If we find ourselves needing to apologize to set the relationship right, this will help: How to Apologize: The Seven Steps of a Sincere Apology.
If others are difficult towards you, ask yourself, “What is it that I do that seems to bother them?” If they get under your skin in such a way that you find it difficult to be civil around them, ask yourself, “What exactly do they do that makes me feel this way?” It’s often one of two things:
1.) Sometimes, without realizing it, people don’t care for someone who has the same fault they have. Let’s pretend you’re not the planning type. You wait until the last minute to make plans or start a project. Jan sees that in you, and it drives her crazy. Why? Because she’s the same way and hates that about herself. She directs her inner anger towards you instead of doing the hard work of changing her own habit.
2.) The opposite can also be true. Jealousy can be the culprit. Carl admires a trait in you so much that when he sees you, he feels like there’s a neon sign hanging over his head announcing to the world that he lacks what you possess in abundance.
In both the above cases, if those involved would have a calm conversation with resolution as its goal, they probably would begin to understand one another. And understanding any situation is the initial step in changing it.
~ When there’s a difficult person in your life, you’ll want to talk about it with someone you love. But if you find that the difficult person gives you daily fodder, stop. Talking about the person a lot will make you feel worse instead of better. The more we say something out loud, the more we hear it. The more we hear it, the more we internalize it. The more we internalize it, the more of us it consumes. (Look again at point number 4 above.) You deserve for your mind to be filled with thoughts that are good and noble. If the difficult person is a gossip, you’ll find this post on Gossip: How to Protect Yourself and Others helpful.
~ We’re called to forgive those who have offended us. Yet sometimes it’s soooooo hard to get difficult people and what they’ve done out of our mind. I completely get it. I have a distant family member who was the thorn in my side for more than a decade.
It’s now been more than a decade since I’ve seen or talked to her, and still sometimes, she’ll pop up in my mind.
I’ll remember something she said, and I’ll feel a sandstorm of resentment blow around me. When I do, I protect myself by consciously changing my mind to something pleasant before I get swept away in anger.
~ When Jesus was asked how many times we should forgive someone, He answered “seventy times seven.” Did He really think anyone would allow offense from someone 490 times? Of course not! 490 simply meant an infinite number.
What’s meant is that forgiveness is a decision we make, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the decision we made over, and over, and over. We can forgive someone and then while we’re unloading the dishwasher, putting the kids down for a nap, waiting for a web page to open, or a million other possible random moments, what the person did will flash through our mind. It’s then we have to remind ourselves that we’ve forgiven the person and purposely think about something pleasant. Forgiving is easier than forgetting. We must consciously “forget” enough times until the remembering doesn’t hurt anymore.
Thank you for being here today! I’d so appreciate your kindness if you would Like this post and share it with your friends and family to help spread the word about our blog and that manners make our lives better. I’m so glad you’re part of the family!
For now, keep doing what only you can do, bless the people around you by being you….at your authentic best!
XOXO and Blessings,