To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

When I encounter a difficult person, I remind myself of what we all have in common -- we all want to be loved, and we all want to be happy. (Per the Buddha.)

Then I want to head for the hills.

However, exiting the situation isn’t always possible, at least in the long term. I’ve lived with difficult people, I’ve worked with difficult people, and I run into difficult people on New York City streets and subways (which is why I prefer the bus, at least I can look at scenery). 

So, since avoiding difficult people isn’t realistic, and I can’t stay on the run all my life, I’ve chosen to find strategies to deal, and learn from my experiences.

The truth is, it’s not really about “them.” (Although there are people we won’t ever get along with.) It’s about us – our triggers, our issues, our own, unresolved “stuff.” 

By learning how to deal with difficult people, we become more accepting of others, and in turn, of ourselves. Besides, the better we get at it, the less they'll bother us. Here are some strategies to stop difficult people from getting under your skin.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.
— Don Miguel Ruiz

Don’t take anything personally is one of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. He writes, “Nothing other people do is because of you.” By taking another person’s comments personally, you ingest his/her “emotional garbage” and feel the need to defend your beliefs, and create conflict.

Ruiz suggests doing away with the need to be accepted.  Stand firm in who you are and say to yourself, “It is nothing personal, because you are dealing with yourself, not with me.”

Try to observe what’s going on with some detachment. Notice your physical state. Do you feel your heart starting to beat faster? Body temperature starting to rise, palms sweating? Are you holding your breath? Bring your attention to your body and breathe. See if you can stay calm and let go of any need to be right, or in control. Walk away if you can. If you can’t, try this next step. 

Practice Empathy -- And Communicate Calmly

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.
— Aristotle

What if you were to put yourself in the other person’s shoes? As a person who, just like you, experiences pressure, personal and professional challenges, and stress. See if you can view the situation from his/her perspective.

Try not judging the person, and labeling him/her a “jerk” or “bossy” or any other name. Labeling keeps you stuck in seeing the person in a very limited way.

If you’re able to bring some empathy to the situation, he/she will feel it. Communicate calmly yet assertively, in a non-threatening way. You’ll get a better response, and likely, better behavior.

Notice Your Triggers

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.
— Carl Jung

Our triggers are things that provoke the same reaction from us, time and time again. We all have triggers because we’ve all experienced pain and suffering, especially as children. A trigger could be someone rejecting you, being unavailable to you, being judgmental or critical of you, or trying to control you. Your default reaction might be to get angry, shutdown, become a people pleaser to be liked, or to turn to an addiction.

Think about what your triggers are, and where they may come from. You can change how you react, and even minimize the trigger, by taking some time to explore your past experiences. The past doesn't have to hold you hostage. Be kind, compassionate and patient towards yourself. 

Look For The Lesson

Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes you’re absolutely right about the person, and the situation is bad. In these cases, trying to view the situation from the other person’s perspective doesn’t help. Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working advocates using “The Long Lens.” “Begin with this question: “Regardless of how I feel about what’s happening right now, how can I grow and learn from this experience?”

Schwartz recalls being fired by a bad boss who found him difficult to deal with. He says while he felt terrible at the time, it didn’t bother him months later. It led him to make a decision and take a new, positive direction. He founded his own company, which he says, “…has brought me more happiness than any other work I’ve ever done.”

Find Peace

I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.
— Unknown

Sometimes, you’ve done everything you could to deal with a difficult person or situation. Sometimes, the best decision is to leave it. The person or situation is toxic, and staying would be detrimental to your mental, physical, or spiritual health.

Do what you have to do to find peace.

Once you’ve made a decision, take action, and let it go. Don’t look back. There’s better in store.

Dealing with difficult people is challenging. That’s because they push our buttons. By not taking anything personally, knowing our triggers, and treating the person fairly, we offer them the respect, and treatment we would want – and deserve.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in dealing with difficult people? Share your comments on my blog or Facebook page. I’ll share more tips.


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