Dealing with difficult people not as tough as you think

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Dealing with difficult people not as tough as you think

Some people go to extraordinary lengths to be difficult.  Think of the diva whose on-set needs can never be met or the boss who keeps moving the goal posts.  The difficult person elevates deliberate provocation to an art form–Nando Pelusi, Ph.D. in Psychology Today

Last week, Guest Columnist Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC, program counselor for the Maryland State Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Program, wrote about how to cope with the difficult people in your life without just wanting to jump off a cliff.  Column space did not allow the entire article, so today we will share and discuss the remaining difficult people ideas. 

Lisa wrote that understanding diverse personalities can help you cope with difficult people in your life.  Here are the personality types she described, with a hint for handling each:

The Passive-Aggressive individual:  This is the person who is upset and angry but instead of expressing how they feel they let you know in a passive destructive way. For example,  someone is upset with you, but instead of discussing it with you, walks away without saying a word and doesn’t talk to you for the rest of the day or night. This person is passively resistant and negative to following through with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. This behavior can manifest itself as helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, and sullenness. This is a very difficult person to deal with. The best way is to be calm and confront the behavior.

            The Complaining Individual: This person is very fearful, insecure and has no faith in themselves or others. This person can bring down the morale of the entire office. Don’t try to convince them to be positive, you will only become exhausted. Instead, look at things objectively and share your optimistic point of view.

            The Aggressive Individual: This is the person who may yell, be demanding, and expect people to run away from them or react with their own anger. Don’t fight or argue with this person, instead stand up to them by assertively expressing your ideas and views.

            The Sniping Individual: These people are insecure and make themselves feel better by putting others down in subtle ways and by taking potshots. They may make comments, jokes, and give disapproving looks. They are trying to gain control. The best way to deal with this person is to ask a question to clarify their comment or behavior. For example, “Are you putting me down?” Usually they will try to put it off on you and say, “I’m just kidding.” Questioning this behavior will usually cut down on these kinds of attacks.

The Dramatic Individual:   Everyone has problems and real issues in life, but this is the person who always makes an issue out of everything. At work they often have an excuse for why they can’t do what they need to. Everything, big and small, is an issue. This person will drain you of all your energy. The best way to deal with this person is to limit your time with them. Plan your interactions with them to have very clear, concise communication. Be assertive and set limits on how much drama you are willing to listen to.

            The Silent Individual: These are timid people who may ignore you, or respond by saying, “I don’t know.” The best way to deal with this person is to ask questions that don’t require a yes or no answer and then wait for a response. You may need to be assertive and ask them why they are not responding to your question.

“Don’t give up on dealing with difficult people,” writes Lisa.  “You may need to get help to learn communication techniques and new ways of coping.  Remember it is not within your power to change someone else, but you do have control over yourself, your reactions to others, and your choices.”

The website, in an article about dealing with difficult folks says that unless we want to live in a cave, we will have to learn how to deal with these people.  The site encourages us: “With the right attitude, we can maintain our peace of mind even when dealing with difficult people.”  The suggestions they give include 1) Don’t expect to change them; 2) Don’t let them and their behavior dominate your thoughts; 3) Don’t feel guilty; 4) Try silence instead of arguing–in silence there is great power.  Do not respond to what they say or do.  5) Keep your sense of humor; 6) Learn from them; and, in spite of everything 7) Offer goodwill.

If you have to work with difficult people, the solution is rarely to change jobs.  They are everywhere.  If we can offer goodwill, even to difficult people, we will make tremendous progress.  Unpleasant people may deserve criticism, but criticism will not help the situation.  Even the most difficult person probably has some good qualities.  Try to mention these.  Subconsciously, the difficult person will appreciate your goodwill and maybe, one day, they’ll respond in kind.

Thank you for reading.  Stay well.  See you next week

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