By: Chris Anderson Psy.D

One of the great stressors in life is dealing with difficult people. By definition, a difficult person is anyone whose words or actions evoke unwanted and unpleasant feelings in you. Before you start making a laundry list of the people you know, remember that we all have a difficult side. Sometimes despite our best efforts, we are only a couple of steps away from becoming a case study in an article like this about difficult people. One thing to remember is that most difficult people are temporarily working from a negative side of their personality and are not consciously trying to be difficult. These people are often swept up in their own emotions and are unaware of their tone of voice, body language, and behaviors towards others.

Knowing the type of difficult person you are dealing with can be helpful in situations and determines the steps you might take. Steam blowers are people who are upset with a particular outcome or situation and are generally not difficult people on a regular basis. Bullies routinely use aggression to get what they want. Pot stirrers enjoy instigating discord and use passive-aggressive methods of expressing their dislikes and upsets. Attention seekers routinely interrupt or may come off as a know it all. Moaners and blamers tend to be negative, find the shortcomings in things, and suck the life and enthusiasm out of ideas and projects. The main theme that runs through all these types and manifestations is that they are often not taking responsibility for their part in things. They tend to blame, project, overgeneralize and use cutting communication.

So what do you do when you are faced with these types of people?

Most people tend to become defensive, which is a normal reaction, but not a useful one. First, you need to realize this person’s behavior is probably not about you and do your best not to personalize it at the moment. Try to remain neutral, which is often an unexpected response for difficult people and sometimes causes them to see the aggressiveness of their approach. Try to be aware of your body language and tone of voice and keep them even. Try to focus on the behavior and not the person. Focusing on why this person is such a jerk is not going to be productive for you. Each type of difficult person and each situation can call for a different approach and tool, so there is no single formula. Often difficult people simply want to be heard and have their feelings validated. When this happens, many will calm down and realize what is done, is done, and can’t be undone. Some situations call for limit setting and boundaries, especially with bullies and attention seekers. Often when told certain things are not acceptable, they will back off. Other tools that can be helpful include: using I language, paraphrasing, using open-ended questions, being patient, be willing to listen, don’t argue, maintain empathy, be respectful, be honest, find out what they want, apologize if it is warranted, and negotiate a solution if possible.

Because every situation is unique and challenging it can be beneficial to sit down with a good therapist who is neutral and figure what the best way to handle some of these difficult people in your life. If you are concerned about issues you are having, please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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