If one thing is sure in life, it’s this: There will be difficult people. Lots of them. Although it’s not easy to follow, the Bible clearly says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, NIV). To try to “live at peace with everyone” even if they aren’t easy to deal with, there are ten techniques.
- Listen to them.
Listening is the number one technique to use when dealing with difficult people. Everyone longs to feel heard and understood. So, when an argument or conflict arises, progress can only occur once each person feels acknowledged. While listening to a difficult person, focus on what they’re saying instead of what to say next.
- Don’t tell them they are difficult.
A person may be hard to deal with at times, but the worst thing to ever say to them is that they are difficult. It may even seem like they are mentally or emotionally unstable; don’t tell them that. Never put a label on them because they won’t listen anyway—even worse, they will get upset again because of the label used.
- Don’t escalate the conflict.
When encountering a difficult person, there is a tendency to fight back and try to prove to them how they are wrong. But it doesn’t work, and it will escalate the conflict. To make matters worse, the problematic person may even bring others into the fight in their attempt to defend their position.
- Stay calm.
Don’t get caught up in reacting; the conflict will only worsen. Pause and take a deep breath before responding. Even if the intense mood is just the other person being difficult, tell them, “We need to calm down.” Saying “we” may help them pause and calm down.
- Assess your safety.
Don’t deal with them alone if the other person has made threats or is unsafe. Meet with them in a public place or with another safe person. Don’t hesitate to contact the local authorities immediately if they have been violent; if necessary, seek legal help.
- Stick to the issues and avoid getting too emotional.
Don’t let emotions try to control the discussion; it will only make things worse. Instead, a good technique is to focus on the problems and behaviors that need to change to come to a solution.
- Set up guidelines.
Before the discussion begins or escalates into an argument or fight, set rules for a civil and respectful discussion. For instance, let them know there should be no yelling, name-calling, bringing up the past, throwing things, or interrupting. If they break a rule, pause the conversation, and ask, “Do you remember the guidelines we set up?”
- Set boundaries.
Be clear about expectations and boundaries. If a boundary is violated, be firm and tell the person what needs to happen to continue the discussion. For example, say, “I feel uncomfortable when being yelled at, so I am going to leave. But we can continue this conversation tomorrow in a public place.”
If the conversation becomes too heated, disengage. Realize the conversation is going nowhere, terminate it, and walk away. There is no use in letting the difficult person use toxic behavior to manipulate and get what they want.
- Don’t try to win.
There’s no need to try to win an argument against a difficult person. This doesn’t work. And it’s not about trying to beat the other person, anyway. It is about listening to one another and trying to find a solution. If a solution is not possible, just agree to disagree. Otherwise, meet with a counselor or coach who can offer professional help to reach an agreement.
If you need help dealing with difficult people, please know we are here for you! Call us at 800-NEW-LIFE.
by Dr. Linda Mintle