Dealing with Difficult People

by karen on December 21, 2011

How do we better deal with difficult people, a dream we all have, especially at holiday time? After all, doesn’t everyone have a relative (or several) with whom interaction is challenging to say the least?    

Tip #1 – before you ever attend a function with that relative (those relatives) to share some cheer this holiday season, write down a list of their attributes which are challenging for you.  In other words, answer, “What makes them so difficult?” This is not something you have to show them; it’s for you and your eyes only.   

After you make out that list, sit back for a few moments and reflect on the traits that just irk you.  Tip #2 then is, write down WHY these personality traits (you might call them flaws) bother you so much.  You may feel some emotional reactions during this exercise, and that’s OK.  Better to feel those emotions before you ever get in a room with them face to face (because you’ve probably done that dance for a long while now).

Let’s go through an example, so that I make sure you’re with me.  Following tip #1, here’s a sample list of relative’s attributes which are challenging for me: Secretive, Pushy, Demanding, Rude

Following tip #2, these specific traits bother me because I feel this relative is inauthentic and lacks integrity.  I believe that being secretive is underhanded.  Pushiness, being demanding and rude are offensive.  I am fearful that their aggressiveness might force me to do things that I really don’t want to do.  My gosh, we’re from the same family—how in the world did they ever wind up being that way? 

And that last question, is Tip #3 – do you know why they act the way that they do?  It would behoove you to figure that out, and I’ll explain why shortly.  It may be helpful to ponder questions like, “What caused them to be the way that they are?”  “Who raised them, and, if I had been treated the way they were growing up, is it possible I could have turned out the same way?”  “What significant emotional events might have reinforced for them that it was necessary to develop those character traits to survive, thrive, and continue to live?”

Going back to my example, my relative grew up with parents who did not want anybody knowing their business.  Nobody in that part of the family was allowed to talk about anything that went on in their home.  I can see that if I had been raised the same way, I would, most likely have become secretive, too.  This relative was one of 4 children, the smallest in stature by the way, with other siblings capturing way more attention than they ever did.  After pondering these facts, I think it’s more than likely that the only way this relative ever was noticed or got what they wanted was to be demanding, rude, and pushy.  

Hopefully, you see that this is leading us to Tip #4 — to reach a state of compassion for your difficult person.  And that is critically important because it will put you in your heart when you interact with them.  Being in your heart combats your typical reaction to either flee or fight them (again, perhaps, you’re typical dance with them). 

Your difficult people, whether they are relatives, friends or coworkers, are human, and there are reasons for them being the way that they are.   If you can have compassion for them, it will take the edge off of your interactions with them and lead to a deeper understanding.  And once you’re on that path, they do not appear nearly as difficult as they used to.

Dream big this holiday season.  By taking time to understand and reflect, you can get along way better with the difficult people in your life.  Enjoy and happy holidays!

For more information, please watch a video I put together for ToledoBizConnectTV called Dealing with Difficult People.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Connie (Wilson) Roberts December 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I really enjoyed your blog Karen! Great things to keep in mind for any time of the year but especially applicable right now. Take care!


karen December 30, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Great to hear from you, Connie. I’m glad to hear that my blog post(s) hit home with you. Hope you’re doing well, and I wish you a happy new year.


eston January 5, 2012 at 10:36 am

I am getting so much appreciate from your blog.Thanks.It is easy to deal with the people if you have the good communicating skills.
For more information related to this please visit :
dealing with difficult people and conversations


Karen January 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm

So glad you are enjoying my blog. I appreciate the tip about the Crucial Conversations book; I own it already and think it is a great resource. Thank you!


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