Dealing with difficult people

Difficult people push our buttons and it’s easy to become stuck and focus on what makes us unhappy – especially when our emotions escalate. The more we believe we’re right, the more entrenched we become. In turn, that part of our life (remember, it’s not the whole part!) becomes a battleground and can spill over if we let it.

Ask yourself:

  • How often are you inviting the difficulty into your present?
  • Is it an invited guest – in your bedroom, when having dinner or talking to friends?
  • Is it constantly on your mind?
  • What impact is it having?

Whatever the situation is, it is not healthy for any party to remain entangled. There are grave consequences for personal well-being, growth, reputation and productivity.

Difficulties arise when expectations are not met. The temptation is to focus/fixate/obsess on ‘solutions’ one would like to see, and that just puts us on a negative spiral path.

Climbing out

One way of climbing out is to challenge our expectations and assumptions – shifting the focus from the desired outcome(s). The objective is to surface beliefs and ideas and apply a ‘truth’ test.

Start by getting a sheet of paper and pen. Making a heading called “My expectations” and then list what you expect from a difficult person or situation. This list will help you assess if your expectations are reasonable, realistic and achievable. Read this list very carefully and test the truthfulness of each answer.

For example, you might have a difficult colleague at work who is unfriendly and uncooperative. You may expect them to be courteous, friendly and helpful.

Is this reasonable? It seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Who would argue against it?

Is it realistic? Let’s look at ‘friendly’. Are you expecting your colleague to be friendly all the time? Are you friendly all the time? Be honest!

Have you considered other reasons for their unfriendliness – such as being stressed, shy, cultural differences, poor social skills? Perhaps you came across as unfriendly and they’re responding in-kind? Maybe they feel intimidated? There could be lots of reasons for their behaviour.

Is it achievable…? This question is about understanding what is within our ability to control or influence. We can’t change others but can change ourselves. The bottom line is to be what you expect of others – even if they do not reciprocate. In this example be courteous, friendly and helpful – for yourself!

A person who lives without expectations is happy and free.

This is just one aspect of dealing with difficult people and I offer a more in-depth course on this important subject.

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