There are often people that can rub us the wrong way. Whether it is a family member, an acquaintance, a boss at work, a teacher at school, or even a stranger that was rude to you once, we all have at least one person we don’t get along with as well as others in our life. We can either choose one of two things: a.) Continue in conflict and/or have resentment, anger, and bitterness towards that person or persons. OR b.) Resolve to be at peace with that person or persons to the best of our ability. We all can do a.) naturally, but b.) takes more work and time. However, though I am still learning, here’s what I found are the keys to deal with difficult people successfully.:
Three Basic Principles (and explanations) of Dealing With Difficult People Successfully:
- Be humble.– If you are too proud to admit your part of the conflict or part in causing the conflict, then you will most likely never be at peace with that person or persons. You will develop a “victim mentality,” meaning when you think that person is only out to hurt or use you when it could be a false assumption. Admitting your part in the rift, no matter how small, can open doors to reconciliation and change on both sides. Being humble tells the person you are having problems with that you are not out to hurt them but that you are the bigger person.
- Be unselfish.–If you are only out for number #1 (i.e. what you call, me, myself, and I) then you will never be able to resolve conflict with that difficult person. However, if you try to put yourself in their shoes, and try to show them, sacrificial love, they will start to “melt.” This principle, found in Romans 12 of the Bible, is called “heaping burning coals on one’s head.” You “heap burning coals” by overwhelming the difficult person with love and care. Basically, you teach them how to love. Warning: You must love sincerely without expecting anything back, otherwise they will see through you and you won’t be able to have the effect you want in them changing their behavior towards you.
- Be patient.–Difficult people don’t change overnight. Even implementing these principles takes concerted time and effort. But be patient with them. Don’t give up on trying to work things out with them just because you don’t see immediate results. Sometimes, this may take years. Continue loving them, and if you are religious, pray for them. Don’t let them affect how you see other people, but also don’t give up hope that one day they can either change or else suffer the consequences of their actions.
Difficult People in Authority: Principles to Follow
In addition to the above general principles, here are others that can be applied when specifically dealing with a difficult person in authority, such as a boss or a teacher:
- Never argue.–If your boss or teacher tells you to do something you don’t want to do unless it is immoral or illegal, don’t try to argue yourself out of it. In fact, try not to argue about anything they say to you! First of all, if you argue against them, you will never “win.” More than that, you may also not only get them irritated or upset with you, but you might get disciplined as well.
- Never defame their character.–People often gossip or even slander about authority figures they hate or dislike. Don’t fall into this trap! If you do, and it gets back to them (as it most likely will), at the very least you will get a verbal tongue-lashing from them because of the anger and hurt they feel towards you for having said those bad things about them, and you can even get severely disciplined or even shunned by everyone around you because of the effects of your gossip and/or slandering. Instead, build them up. Only speak to their positive qualities to others. In this, you will retain your integrity.
- Always phrase any questions you may have in a non-threatening manner. –For example, if something they said shocks you or you don’t quite understand what they just said, you can ask in a neutral tone of voice, “I didn’t understand quite what you meant by that. May you please explain it to me again?”
If they snipe at or criticize you, and at least some part of the criticism is true, ask what they think you can do to fix it or do better next time. Always maintain a humble attitude. For instance, if my boss tells me that I did labeling of items wrong and that I am too slow, I could say, “How would you like me to do the labeling instead? Is there any way that is effective that you use to do your work more efficiently that I should imitate so I can improve my work speed?”
Difficult People in the Family:
The most difficult people may be in one’s own family. If there are major issues with abuse, you may only be able to do #1 most effectively, but for other situations, #2 and #3 do work wonders. However, one should strive to be kind and unselfish to everyone, even though it may be a long and difficult road. Also, dealing with one’s family is the cornerstone for growing and coping with other relationships you have.
- Have limited contact, if possible.–If the difficult person does not live with you or is a distant relative, you don’t have to have constant contact with them. Love them from a distance. Don’t be drawn into interactions with them that can create conflict and chaos. If you live with them or have to see them on a regular basis, see principles 2 and 3.
- Show them kindness.–You don’t have to like someone to show them kindness. Yes, it is easier if you do get along with them, but you can show people you don’t like kindness as well. Intentionally show them love and grace. For instance, if the person you don’t get along with in your family has constant physical pain, you can help them with tasks that if they did them by themselves would exacerbate the pain. This way you show care for their pain and suffering and are telling them that they don’t have to suffer alone. This can open the door to reconciliation if you do these tasks with a sincere heart and a good attitude.
- Prefer them over yourself.–I have often said, and this is true, that the most difficult people in our lives are often the ones in most need of love. Preferring the difficult person over yourself says that you are willing to work to be at peace with them not only for your benefit but for theirs as well. It will also show this difficult person that you have their best interests at heart and are not out to hurt them.
Strangers/people you don’t meet every day:
There are people that you don’t meet every day, but they still are difficult to handle, such as the person who cuts you off in traffic, the person who writes disparaging comments about you on YouTube or Twitter, or the person who cuts you in the grocery store line and has a thousand items when you only had several. Here are three principles specific to them on how to deal:
- Don’t take what they say or do personally.–Some people (wrongly) take their bad days or difficult situations out on other people. I’m sure most of us have done this too at some point in our lives. These people are probably not trying to purposely hurt you though, so try not to take them personally. For instance, if someone says something nasty to you on Twitter or YouTube, try to chalk it up to their stupidity and ignorance, and not someone out to personally hurt you. Usually, anonymous people who hurt others (often called, “trolls”) do so for attention or to get a rise out of people. Don’t give them the attention they don’t deserve.
- Ask sincerely, “What can I do to help you?”–This applies to only certain situations. For instance, it can apply to the person who cuts you in the grocery store line, or when a customer or client complains about something. Asking “What can I do to help you?” in those situations shows the person that you are willing to attend to their needs, and are not bent on just hurting them or getting what you want. It shows both unselfishness and kindness, things that can go a long way to make peace with someone.
- Let them vent; Don’ t tell them to “calm down” or criticize them.–Often when a stranger or a person you don’t meet regularly is upset, they are not upset at you. Even if they are, never tell someone to “calm down” or, worse yet, condemn or criticize their response. First of all, telling someone to calm down invalidates how they are feeling. Also, telling them something like, “Don’t be so rude!” or “You’re so selfish!” will only make things worse for them and for you. Let them vent. Try to validate how they are feeling. Even telling them, “I”m sorry that you are feeling that way. It must be tough, ” is better than criticizing them or telling them to calm down.