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15 Ways to Handle Difficult People

As much as we hope to surround ourselves with only pleasant, positive people, that is wishful thinking. The fact is, we all encounter difficult people … more frequently than we want. Since you can’t avoid difficult people completely, here are ideas for how to deal with them:

1. Don’t take it personally. Difficult people are that way because of their own deficiencies—it’s not about you.

2. Enlist allies. Depending upon the circumstances, you may be able to call for backup. No need to handle a difficult person alone if you don’t have to.

3. Stop and listen. Sometimes, difficult people just want to be heard. Find out what they need—and are afraid of not getting.

4. Minimize contact with the person. Cut down on time spent and other entanglements that put you at the person’s mercy.

5. Set healthy boundaries for yourself. Determine what you will and will not put up with, then ruthlessly stick to those parameters.

6. Don’t get drawn into the craziness. Many difficult people are that way because they get something out of the drama or tension they create. You can choose not to play along.

7. Maintain your sense of humor. Gentle and well-timed humor is often the best way to diffuse tension.

8. Try empathy. Sometimes, difficult people are wounded souls who need compassion. As the biblical proverb says, “A gentle word turns away wrath.”

9. State your own needs and wishes. Make sure you aren’t contributing to the difficulty by failing to communicate what you need.

10. Avoid escalation. The temptation is to dish it right back to a difficult person, but that will just make things worse. Choose to be the bigger person.

11. Seek areas of commonality. You might find common ground—a favorite sports team, hobby, vacation spot, movie genre—that creates a safe zone for conversation.

12. Inoculate yourself against negativity. Don’t let another person’s antagonistic attitude rub off on you. Preserve your positive outlook.

13. Sidestep landmines. Everyone has hot buttons—topics that get us worked up. Be aware of your own and the other person’s … and stay clear.

14. Change what you can, accept what you can’t. If you’re on a date with a difficult person, you can bow out gracefully or decline a second date. If your boss (or mother or sibling) is the difficult person, you’ll need to accept the situation for what it is and do your best to improve it.

15. If all else fails, run. Seriously, sometimes people are so difficult that you just need to get away from them.

How else do you handle difficult people?