How to Get Along With Difficult People
We all know people who are hard to deal with. Some people are too demanding or abrasive. Others may be arrogant or emotionally abusive. Regardless, communicating with a person like this can be quite stressful, and taking the wrong approach can make matters worse rather than better. The instructions below can help you to improve your relationship with a difficult friend, family member, or coworker, or at least help you to co-exist with a difficult person with less stress and conflict.
Improving the Relationship
Be pleasant.Sometimes a relationship with a difficult person can be improved with a little extra kindness. Smile and say hello when you see the difficult person you are dealing with. Being friendly isn't a sign of weakness.
- Sometimes a little humor can go a long way. If you can tell a friendly joke, this could go a long way toward lightening the mood.
Offer compliments.In some cases, a person may be difficult because they feel that they are not being heard, appreciated, or understood. Making an effort to point out something they've done well once in a while may also improve the relationship.
Look within.If you truly want to improve a relationship with a difficult person, it's important to consider whether or to what extent the tension in your relationship with this individual might be caused by your own actions or attitudes.
- Is it possible you've been rude or done something to offend the person you are having a hard time with? If so, you should offer a sincere apology.
- It's also possible that your mannerisms toward this person are not communicating that you are listening or being mindful of their needs or feelings. In this case, improving the dynamic may be as simple as changing some of your non-verbal communication (e.g. gestures and tone) to show the person that you are listening, that you understand, or that you are not against them.
Don't take it personally.If, after considering your own behaviors and attitude, you conclude you are not responsible for this individual's difficult behavior, try not to take their rudeness personally. The issue isn't you, it is their attitude.
- Even if this is the case, try to be compassionate. Keep in mind that this person might be treating you poorly because of some hardship they are experiencing in their own life.That doesn't mean you should let them abuse you, but being understanding may help improve the relationship.
Engaging in Conversation
Keep your cool.When talking to a difficult person, stay calm and rational, avoid the temptation to try to win the argument, and don't be drawn into a battle you don't want to wage. You are much more likely to reach a satisfactory outcome if you can stay calm and rational.
- Think before reacting. Even if someone is extremely angry or rude to you, formulating a calm response is the best approach. It sets boundaries, and sends a message to them that they need to calm down.
Acknowledge their feelings.As previously mentioned, many people behave in a difficult way because they don't feel heard or understood. Just showing that you are listening to what they have to say can sometimes improve the situation.
- It's a good idea to let the person know you recognize their feelings. Offer your perceptions of their feelings, and ask for feedback, saying something like "It sounds like you're very angry right now, and I'm sorry you feel that way." This shows your willingness to understand their perspective.
- Ask what they are upset about. You can further show your willingness to empathize if you ask them to tell you about their feelings.
- Acknowledge valid criticisms. If the person is being extremely critical of you, try to find a kernel of truth in what they are saying, and acknowledge the validity of the point, even if their criticism isn't entirely fair or accurate. This may reduce the person's sense that they are being challenged, even if you then go on to point out where they aren't being fair or accurate.
Communicate clearly.When dealing with a difficult person, it is important to communicate in a clear and open way. Many conflicts arise from misunderstandings.
- If you can, try to talk to the person face-to-face rather than via email or other technology. This reduces the risk of miscommunication and may foster more empathy.
- If you must engage in a dispute with someone, bring written evidence for your perspective to the table,and try to steer the discussion toward fact-based argument rather than statements of opinion or emotion.
Focus on the issue, not the person.Focus your conversation on the issue or problem you have to solve, rather than the person you are dealing with. This helps prevent the conversation from devolving into personal attacks and may lead to more rational thinking on the part of the difficult individual.
- This approach has the added benefit of projecting yourself as a problem-solver who really cares about the issue at hand and wants to change the situation for the better.
Be assertive, but not aggressive.Communicate in a way that allows you to express your views and ideas about the situation at hand in a clear way, but without silencing the other person or making them feel that you aren't listening or being rude.
- Where possible, ask questions rather than making statements. Difficult people often have strong opinions. If you can lead them to see potential flaws in their reasoning without telling them they are wrong, you can often avoid unnecessary conflict.
- For example, politely asking them "have you considered this problem?" might be more productive than saying "your way of thinking about this doesn't account for this issue."
- Use "I" statements. When you do make statements, make them about yourself rather than the person.This can diffuse the feeling that you are challenging or blaming them.
- For example, saying, "I never received that email" is less provocative than "you never sent that email." Similarly, "I felt disrespected by that comment" could be less inflammatory than "you were very rude."
Keeping your Distance
Pick your battles.Sometimes, it's better to just let a difficult person be difficult. It may be more productive to let a rude comment roll off your back than engaging in what might become a prolonged and heated argument.
- Similarly, you have a coworker who is very good at some specific task, it might be worth tolerating difficult behavior in order to reap the benefits of their positive qualities.
Limit your interactions.In some cases, the best thing you can do is simply limit the extent to which you have to interact with a difficult person by avoiding any unnecessary contact..
- For example, if the difficult individual is someone you work with, you might want to skip the department luncheon or the after-work happy hour sometimes to avoid unpleasant interactions with one of your coworkers.
Walk away.Sometimes, the best option is to walk away from the situation, or even the entire relationship. If this is an option, it may be worth considering.
- A short-term fix to the problems presented by a difficult person is just to say: "I can't deal with this issue right now. Let's talk about it later when we've had a chance to cool off."
- If you have a personal relationship with a difficult person, you may need to consider ending it. This can be difficult, but if you have tried improving the situation and the person in question is not open to change, it may not be worth maintaining a relationship.
QuestionHow do I handle unpleasant people?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerSome people won't be nice to you no matter how you treat them. Just try to avoid them or speak to them in as few words as possible and hopefully they won't have a reason to be rude or annoying.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do I do if my daughter-in-law won't allow my son to come to my house or speak with me? She does not want him to have any kind of relationship with me!wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThis depends very much on the situation, but the best way to start out is using empathy. Why does she not want your relationship with your son to continue? Does your son desire to have a relationship with you? Is there something you could be doing wrong? These questions are not to point blame at her, you, or your son. It is simply a way of defining what exactly is going on and ensuring that you understand what the true problem is - this is the only way you can also find the solution.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I truly care about said difficult person, who has emotionally abused me? I really care about the person.Top AnswererYou can care about someone, yet not let them get so close that they can hurt you. Learn, if you haven't already, how to protect yourself from (emotional) abuse, find a good distance between you, and care about the person from that distance.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do I do if I have a friend who talks about me a lot?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTell her how you feel, and use I statements that focus on how you feel when she talks about you. For example, maybe you should say, "When you talk about me a lot, I feel like I have no privacy." A good friend should be open to resolving the issue.Thanks!
QuestionA mean girl held a plastic container up in front of me and said, "stick this up your butt". I am extremely offended. I told a friend but they doubted this was really the case, what should I do?Jadyn FishCommunity AnswerI wouldn't be worried. Girls can be mean. Just ignore her, or say something like, "No" or "I don't want to".Thanks!
- People who respect you or who you have a close relationship with are more likely to be open to change. These are most likely the types of individuals who are worth engaging rather than avoiding.
- Think carefully about how you might be perpetuating negativity in a relationship. You may not even be aware of some of the things you are doing to cause someone else to feel threatened, challenged, confused, or hurt.
- Be safe if challenging an aggressive bully. These situations can sometimes escalate and become dangerous.
- If the person you are dealing with is being overly aggressive, this may be because no one has challenged them before. It's good to stand up to bullies, but make sure you do so in a safe environment with other people present, in case their aggressive behavior becomes dangerous to you or other people.
Sources and Citations
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