By Ann Sullivan
We all have those moments, trying to stay composed while dealing with an incredibly difficult person. Whether the relationship is business or personal, it takes skill to deal with certain types of people. These situations can be maddening, frustrating and send you into a tail spin if you absorb their tension. There are some techniques which can be employed, however. These can help diffuse the difficulty and help you keep your composure at the same time. Many of these are used by crisis intervention professionals. You can incorporate them into your own situations and learn to deal with difficult people too. Or, otherwise decide if it’s just time to walk away.
1) Listen to What They’re Saying
It’s easy enough to get caught up in the tension and emotion of a difficult person’s rant. Once you begin to fire back, neither of you will hear what the other is saying. It’s important, for this reason, to take a deep breath and listen. Even if what they’re saying seems bizarre, or out of left field, carefully listen to what is being said – or shouted! Often, difficult people feel like they are not being acknowledged. They will raise their voice in anger and frustration in an attempt to be heard. By simply listening and not responding until they are finished, you are automatically diffusing their anger and frustration. This takes practice, as it’s easy to get caught up in the tension and respond by talking over them. If you politely ask for permission to speak once they are finished, they will feel recognized.
2) Stay Calm
This ties into listening, but is equally as important. You need to stay calm and composed when dealing with someone who is not. If you sit there in a state of tension while they go off on their rant, this can inflate the situation as much as yelling back. It will also cause you much stress and frustration in the process. You need to lead by example. No matter how much the other person displays fits of emotion, remain calm and do not respond in the same way. If you do, you’ll only being fanning the flames of their anger and negativity. Take several slow deep breaths. This will help you relax and better respond to the situation. It will also help to deflect absorbing their tension. Keep in mind, the anger and tension belong to the other person, and you should not take possession of it.
3) Set Boundaries
If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who has chosen you as their proverbial punching bag, you need to set boundaries. They need to realize you are not the source of their troubles and therefore should not be the brunt of them. By telling the person directly they are being disrespectful towards you, and you will not allow them to speak to you that way, you are putting limits on their control. Wait until there is a calm moment when they will hear what you say. If they are agitated, chances are they won’t hear or absorb your words. If you cannot find that calm moment, simply remove yourself from their presence and let them go calm down somewhere else. Oftentimes, the agitated person is taking something out on you that has nothing to do with you. Give them a “time out” to think about that!
4) Don’t Argue
Oftentimes difficult people want to argue for seemingly no reason. They may just be taking another issue out on you where they couldn’t argue with the person who caused their frustration. If you do not know the underlying cause of that tension, you won’t know what the actual issue is. Sometimes listening is the answer. Other times, just walking away is. It depends on whether you can get them to a place of discussion without argument. If you can’t have a calm discussion, then it’s best to just let them talk and not say anything until they calm down. If they can’t calm down, and they are bent on wanting to argue, the best defense is a good offense as the expression goes. Simply back away or tell them you will revisit the issue when they are calm enough to speak kindly.
5) Diffuse with an Apology
Experts advise sometimes it’s best to just apologize, even if you don’t believe you are at fault. Some difficult people will never admit something was their fault. They don’t even admit partial responsibility. By apologizing, you are the better person for it. That’s not to say you should take the blame for every situation. It does mean, however, that sometimes an apology shows the other person you are not at odds with them and have compassion for their viewpoint. Once you’ve diffused their anger with an apology, offer assistance in making the situation better. If they have a big ego, chances are they’ll jump right in because they’ll want credit for correcting whatever the situation is. You can turn them around by letting them take the lead, and you won’t necessarily have to fix anything!
6) Put Some Space Between
If you find yourself dealing with a difficult person who simply won’t back down, then put some space in between. This is especially true for personal relationships. If you find yourself bearing the brunt of their anger and frustration, you need to give them and yourself some space. Back away quietly. Avoid answering their calls or showing up some place you know they’ll be. Silence can in fact be golden, as the saying goes. Sometimes merely by being absent, you are showing them you are not going to participate in their difficulty. This is especially true if that person has gotten so into the habit of taking their frustration out on you, it’s become routine. By simply disappearing for a while, you may give them pause for thought. Don’t be so quick to jump when they call you. Give them some time to think about their behavior towards you.
7) Don’t Take It Personally
This may be one of the most difficult things to do. It’s especially true if you are dealing with a difficult person in business or the work place, such as a boss. Some people are just miserable on their own, and their misery seems to spill over to those around them. This is not your fault. So, don’t take it personally. Try to let whatever the difficult person is saying to you pass through you like the wind through a screen. It may take some practice to be successful at doing this, especially if it’s someone you see on a regular basis. It’s also best to try not to smile or laugh during their tirade. Some people do laugh out of nervousness. It could be taken as mockery and anger them further. It could also be construed as a sign of disrespect.
8) Trust Your Gut
If you feel the situation is getting so overheated, and your safety may be at stake, chances are it is. Don’t stay in a negative situation that could potentially turn violent. Just walk away or get yourself out of there any way you can safely do so. Some difficult people are bullies. Deep down they are cowards, but outwardly they are control freaks. If your instinct is telling you the situation is getting worse, then just go. Do so before the opportunity is lost, and you find yourself a victim of violence. Once something like that occurs, it can’t be undone. No apology can make up for physically harming or abusing another person. If you’ve gotten to the point where you are fearing for your safety, the best course of action is to completely remove yourself. If you can’t do it alone, ask for help from someone you trust.
9) Decompress & Talk
Once you’ve had an encounter, or a series of them, with a difficult person, you need to decompress from the overall tension and stress. It’s recommended to speak with someone about your experience. This can help you better analyze the situation. Often, it can help you decide whether you can continue with this difficult person, or if you need to completely remove them from your life. Speaking aloud can often reveal things about the relationship or situation that merely thinking to yourself might not. Talking with someone can bring things to the surface that, in the heat of the moment, may not have even occurred to you. If you have a good friend you can confide in, let them in on what’s happening. You may find they are happy you chose to tell them, and will be a great sounding board to sort your thoughts and feeling out.
10) Relieve Your Own Stress
We often can easily become the target of difficult people because we are too nice. This can lead to internalizing the stress and tension we absorb from that person. Holding in stress and tension, whether you are aware or not you are doing so, is very unhealthy. It can lead to other issues, so you need to release it. Whether you like to go out dancing to live music, go for a jog, or participate in meditation, do something for yourself. Sometimes even just sitting in nature or by the water can calm the inner turmoil the difficult person has left you with. When you’re doing something to relieve the stress it has caused you, try to just set the situation aside and let your mind take a break from it. Same goes for your body. Your muscles need to relax along with the rest of what absorbed that tension.
11) Give Yourself Credit
It takes a lot to deal with a difficult person, especially if those encounters are on a continuing basis. If you’ve handled the situations well, or as best as you could, considering how hard it was, give yourself a little pat on the back. You deserve some credit and self-recognition for successfully dealing with an unwarranted, tense, or abusive occurrence. You should also take some mental notes, or jot some thoughts down about what was successfully dealt with in the situation. This way you can remind yourself what to do should another such situation occur. Also, keep in mind you are nobody’s punching bag. If you’re in a repeated situation in a relationship with someone, it may be time to reevaluate what’s going on, and decide if you should just plain remove yourself from the constant tension and abuse. Be sure to always keep your own self-respect intact.