Dealing with Difficult People
Can you recall the last time you had to deal with a negative or difficult person? Or the last time someone said something with the intention of hurting you? How did you handle it? What was the result? What can you do in the future to get through these situations with peace and grace?
No matter where we go, we will face people who are negative, people who oppose our ideas, people who piss us off or people who simply do not like us. There are 6.4 billion people out there and conflict is a fact of life. This fact isn’t the cause of conflict but it is the trigger to our emotions and our emotions are what drive us back to our most basic survival instinct; react and attack back to defend ourselves.
In these instinctual moments, we may lose track of our higher selves and become the human animal with an urge to protect ourselves when attacked. This too is natural. However, we are the only animal blessed with intelligence and having the ability to control our responses. So how can we do that?
I regularly get asked “How do you deal with the negative comments about your articles? They are brutal. I don’t think I could handle them.” My answer is simple, “I don’t let it bother me to begin with.” It wasn’t always this simple, and took me some time before overcoming this natural urgency to protect myself and attack back.
I know it’s not easy, if it was easy, there wouldn’t be difficult or negative people to begin with.
Why Bother Controlling Our Responses?
1. Hurting Ourselves
One of my favorite sayings is “Holding a grudge against someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The only person we hurt is ourselves. When we react to negativity, we are disturbing our inner space and mentally creating pain within ourselves.
2. It’s Not About You, It’s About Them
I’ve learned that when people initiate negativity, it is a reflection of their inner state expressed externally and you just happen to be in front of that expression. It’s not personal, so why do we take it personally? In short: Because our ego likes problems and conflict. People are often so bored and unhappy with their own lives that they want to take others down with them.
There have been many times when a random person has left a purposefully hurtful comment on TSN, and regularly checked back to see if anyone else responded to their comment, waiting eagerly to respond with more negativity.
3. Battle of the Ego
When we respond impulsively, it is a natural and honest response. However, is it the smart thing to do? What can be resolved by doing so? The answer: Nothing. It does however feed our ego’s need for conflict.
Have you noticed that when we fight back, it feels really satisfying in our heads? But it doesn’t feel very good in our soul? Our stomach becomes tight, and we start having violent thoughts?
When we do respond irrationally, it turns the conversation from a one-sided negative expression into a battle of two egos. It becomes an unnecessary and unproductive battle for Who is Right?
4. Anger Feeds Anger. Negativity Feeds Negativity.
Rarely can any good come out of reacting against someone who is in a negative state. It will only trigger anger and an additional reactive response from that person. If we do respond impulsively, we’ll have invested energy in the defending of ourselves and we’ll feel more psychologically compelled to defend ourselves going forward.
Have you noticed that the angrier our thoughts become, the angrier we become? It’s a negative downward spiral.
5. Waste of Energy
Where attention goes, energy flows. What we focus on tends to expand itself. Since we can only focus on one thing at a time, energy spent on negativity is energy that could have been spent on our personal wellbeing.
6. Negativity Spreads
I’ve found that once I allow negativity in one area of my life, it starts to subtly bleed into other areas as well. When we are in a negative state or holding a grudge against someone, we don’t feel very good. We carry that energy with us as we go about our day. When we don’t feel very good, we lose sight of clarity and may react unconsciously to matters in other areas of our lives, unnecessarily.
7. Freedom of Speech
People are as entitled to their opinions as you are. Allow them to express how they feel and let it be. Remember that it’s all relative and a matter of perspective. What we consider positive can be perceived by another as negative. When we react, it becomes me-versus-you, who is right?
Some people may have a less than eloquent way of expressing themselves – it may even be offensive, but they are still entitled to do so. They have the right to express their own opinions and we have the right and will power to choose our responses. We can choose peace or we can choose conflict.
15 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People
While I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with negativity, it is something I find myself having to actively work on. When I’m caught off guard and end up resorting to a defensive position, the result rarely turns out well.
The point is, we are humans after all, and we have emotions and egos. However, by keeping our egos in-check and inserting emotional intelligence, we’ll not only be doing a favor for our health and mental space, but we’ll also have intercepted a situation that would have gone bad, unnecessarily.
Photo by Kara Pecknold
Here are some tips for dealing with a difficult person or negative message:
What would the Dali Lama do if he was in the situation? He would most likely forgive. Remember that at our very core, we are good, but our judgment becomes clouded and we may say hurtful things. Ask yourself, “What is it about this situation or person that I can seek to understand and forgive?”
2. Wait it Out
Sometimes I feel compelled to instantly send an email defending myself. I’ve learned that emotionally charged emails never get us the result we want; they only add oil to the fire. What is helpful is inserting time to allow ourselves to cool off. You can write the emotionally charged email to the person, just don’t send it off. Wait until you’ve cooled off before responding, if you choose to respond at all.
3. “Does it really matter if I am right?“
Sometimes we respond with the intention of defending the side we took a position on. If you find yourself arguing for the sake of being right, ask “Does it matter if I am right?” If yes, then ask “Why do I need to be right? What will I gain?”
4. Don’t Respond
Many times when a person initiates a negative message or difficult attitude, they are trying to trigger a response from you. When we react, we are actually giving them what they want. Let’s stop the cycle of negative snowballing and sell them short on what they’re looking for; don’t bother responding.
5. Stop Talking About It
When you have a problem or a conflict in your life, don’t you find that people just love talking about it? We end up repeating the story to anyone who’ll listen. We express how much we hate the situation or person. What we fail to recognize in these moments is that the more we talk about something, the more of that thing we’ll notice.
Example, the more we talk about how much we dislike a person, the more hate we will feel towards them and the more we’ll notice things about them that we dislike. Stop giving it energy, stop thinking about it, and stop talking about it. Do your best to not repeat the story to others.
6. Be In Their Shoes
As cliché as this may sound, we tend to forget that we become blind-sided in the situation. Try putting yourself in their position and consider how you may have hurt their feelings. This understanding will give you a new perspective on becoming rational again, and may help you develop compassion for the other person.
7. Look for the Lessons
No situation is ever lost if we can take away from it some lessons that will help us grow and become a better person. Regardless of how negative a scenario may appear, there is always a hidden gift in the form of a lesson. Find the lesson(s).
8. Choose to Eliminate Negative People In Your Life
Negative people can be a source of energy drain. And deeply unhappy people will want to bring you down emotionally, so that they are not down there alone. Be aware of this. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and do not mind the energy drain, I recommend that you cut them off from your life.
Cut them out by avoiding interactions with them as much as possible. Remember that you have the choice to commit to being surrounded by people who have the qualities you admire: optimistic, positive, peaceful and encouraging people. As Kathy Sierra said, “Be around the change you want to see in the world.”
9. Become the Observer
When we practice becoming the observer of our feelings, our thoughts and the situation, we separate ourselves away from the emotions. Instead of identifying with the emotions and letting them consume us, we observe them with clarity and detachment. When you find yourself identifying with emotions and thoughts, bring your focus on your breathe.
10. Go for a Run
… or a swim, or some other workout. Physical exercise can help to release the negative and excess energy in us. Use exercise as a tool to clear your mind and release built up negative energy.
11. Worst Case Scenario
Ask yourself two questions,
- “If I do not respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?“
- “If I do respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?“
Answering these questions often adds perspectives to the situation, and you’ll realize that nothing good will come out of reacting. Your energy will be wasted, and your inner space disturbed.
12. Avoid Heated Discussions
When we’re emotionally charged, we are so much in our heads that we argue out of an impulse to be right, to defend ourselves, for the sake of our egos. Rationality and resolution can rarely arise out of these discussions. If a discussion is necessary, wait until everyone has cooled off before diving into one.
13. Most Important
List out things in your life most important to you. Then ask yourself, “Will a reaction to this person contribute to the things that matter most to me?”
14. Pour Honey
This doesn’t always work, but sometimes catches people off guard when they’re trying to “Pour Poison” on you. Compliment the other person for something they did well, tell them you’ve learned something new through interacting with them, and maybe offer to become friends. Remember to be genuine. You might have to dig deep to find something that you appreciate about this person.
15. Express It
Take out some scrap paper and dump all the random and negative thoughts out of you by writing freely without editing. Continue to do so until you have nothing else to say. Now, roll the paper up into a ball, close your eyes and visualize that all the negative energy is now inside that paper ball. Toss the paper ball in the trash. Let it go!
** How do you deal with difficult people? What has worked well for you in the past? How do you cool down when you’re all fired up and angry? Share your thoughts in the comments. See you there!