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  • Abbigale Winslow

Dealing with Difficult People

No matter where you live, work, go to school, or even travel, you will always encounter difficult people. Some might be insignificant moments of frustration while other difficult people might have a more permeant role in your life. Regardless of the reason someone is difficult to work with or be around, there are some best practices for handling the situation. Here are three of the ways to make your life easier when it comes to dealing with difficult people:

Be Aware of Their Weaknesses

Think of someone you know that is difficult to work with. I am sure if I asked you, you could tell me why exactly they were hard to be around. They are always late, grouchy, awkward, procrastinate, complain, make you beg for help, aren't social, don't understand personal space...the list can go on and on. If you want to learn how to deal with and "manage" your interactions with this person, you first have to name and understand their weakness. Once you understand the root of the problem you can then tactfully go about solving it.

While people can change if they want to, you shouldn't set out to change the habits of people in your life that make them difficult to work with. Would it be better for everyone involved? Sure. But knowing they aren't going to change overnight and this is how they act to everyone, prevents you from getting your feelings hurt. So when dealing with a difficult person, evaluate what they are doing that bothers you and understand it isn’t personal.

Set Yourself Up to Succeed

There is nothing worse than getting in trouble, feeling awful, or even looking bad in front of a teacher or boss because of someone else. One of the ways to fortify yourself against difficult people is to set yourself up for success. Now that you understand their weakness you can work to turn the situation to be in your favor.

If one of your friends is difficult to work with because they always cancel on your Friday night plans then invite them but don't count on them to show up. Don’t assign them to bring a main dish to share to the holiday party either. It might seem like you are letting them off the hook but in reality, you are fortifying your night against disappointment. If they really do come through it is an added bonus. If they don't, you aren't surprised or upset.

This strategy can work for all types of people you find in your life. If you understand that your co-worker always procrastinates the jobs you send them, set tighter deadlines for them that give you more wiggle room with the client. Whatever their weakness, if you understand what it is, you can take the difficulty out of the situations more often than not.

Love, but Don't Tolerate

Just because someone can be difficult to work with doesn't mean that we don't love and support that person. Sometimes it is the ones we love that most that we can struggle with. While we should always love and treat people with kindness, we shouldn't tolerate poor behavior.

There are a few strategies for loving difficult people while still addressing the behavior.

Using humor is a great way to show love to someone while still trying to correct the behavior. Make a joke about the situation. People appreciate a sense of humor because it gives them a chance to save face. You get your point across and they (hopefully) get the point.

Getting some space is also a great way to relieve a potentially stressful situation. If you know you will encounter a difficult person at a party then don't go, leave early, or tactfully give you and that person some space. This tip is especially helpful when you find yourself dealing with a tense situation. It’s okay to get space in whatever way you need to. Take a step back, and remember your game plan.

When dealing with a difficult person in a formal situation like work or school try using the tool of higher authority in your favor. If what you are requesting from that person is making them mad (i.e. their part of an assignment, project, or they are procrastinating) put the pressure on from the higher authority. Use lines such as "this is super important to our boss," "our teacher said this had to be done today," or even "I would be okay with that but the client wouldn't."

Lastly, one of the ways to be respectful but not tolerate difficult people's frustrating behavior is to tell them outright. This strategy should be used as a last resort. Not because you are afraid or weak, but because it is hard to keep a healthy relationship alive under constant criticism. Don't be afraid to tell someone outright that they are being difficult to work with, but use it sparingly. It can be an extremely powerful tool when used correctly.

Every day we deal with friends, family, co-workers, peers, and supervisors in all aspects of our lives. Life is a constant weaving of these relationships—good and bad. The next time you find yourself in a situation with a difficult person try using these tips. As you practice them and flex your social muscles you might find that the amount of difficult people in your life goes down.


Abbi J

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