How to Deal with Difficult People
I know you’ve selected this article, because you want a 1-2-3 step formula for dealing with the jerk down the hall or in the next cube to make them permanently go away and possibly even like you for it.
And you know that outcome doesn’t exist, so don’t be irritated with me. I do have the solution, but it’s going to be less fun than you thought. You can opt for FUN and back space and find another article on the Internet, or you can fix this situation right now.
1. Write down a list of everything you hate about this person. This is NOT the time to be spiritual or introspective (He probably had a rough childhood, for instance). This is the time to let all those thoughts that have been bombarding you day in and day out and find a place on the page.
If you are just reading this and NOT doing the actual work of long-hand writing (no computers) on a piece of paper, then this process won’t work. Go do it right now. Stop reading and do it. What are you still doing reading? WRITE!
2. That probably felt great, by the way. You’ve been battling with your thoughts more than you’ve been in actual battle with this person. And speaking of this person, they aren’t the first idiot you’ve had to deal with in your work life, are they? Some variation of this person has been at every job, right?
Bingo. This is always true and I don’t even know you. It’s true for all of us, so don’t start worrying that you have a problem. It’s fixable and it’s about to happen for you.
3. Now, a bit of tough love, but it’s going to be like pulling an infected splinter from your palm: it will hurt a little, but be SO much better in a minute. I want you to find examples of the OPPOSITE traits in this person and write those down next to your list. Your page might look like this:
He’s always late to meetings. He thinks his time is more important than anyone else’s.
(He was on time a couple of weeks ago. He’s on time for starting work).
He talks so LOUD. Thinks we all want to hear every word he has to say!
(He can talk quietly. Sometimes he doesn’t say anything for a couple of hours).
He has stupid ideas.
(He had a good idea about the parking deck last month).
I know you are invested in really disliking, and even hating, this person. And he or she is mostly wrong about things and you find you are mostly right.
And that’s part of the problem here: having to be right. You want this person to be more like you because you are living your life right. And if he/she would only see how you do things and say things, they’d be much better off. And maybe that’s true.
But here’s the deal: they are already raised. They are grown. You aren’t their mother or sister or spouse. They are not your business. They are not changing. They are who they are. And it sucks, I know. But the only thing that will actually work here is for you to stop trying to make them different. It doesn’t work and it never has and you are just upsetting yourself.
And probably no one else is as upset, right? Even your co-workers who agree with you aren’t as riled up as you are about all this. They are just enjoying the gossip. You are the one in pain. This person probably goes whole hours without thinking about you even once.
You Aren't Always Right
You’d be amazed how many people are not actually thinking about you right this minute.
Dr. Robert Bolton, who wrote the bestseller “People Skills” says, “95% of all conflict comes from our irresistible need to be right.” Now if right after you read that, you went mentally to someone who needs to hear this quote…if you thought “My husband needs to hear that!” or “This person needs to hear that!” then you are only reinforcing your own need to be right.
He’s always late to meetings….I am always late to church. I used to be late to work when I was in my ‘20s.
Take a second and sit still and absorb that reality that you are spending a lot of energy having to be right. And while there is nothing wrong with accuracy and good manners and doing the right THING, these are not the same as having to be right. You know?
4. Now this next part requires the swallowing of a Big Boy or Big Girl pill. It’s the hardest part, but you are going to be able to do it and you will find that you are interacting with this person SOOOO much better than before you started this process.
List examples of where YOU do the things you wrote about this person in Step #1. Find examples of where YOU are late. These examples may not be exact mirrors of this situation you described. These could be in other areas of your life or even in the past. So here’s what this may look like:
He’s so loud…I was told once by my spouse that I talked too loud on the phone.
If you did this sincerely, you are in a little bit of awe right now. If you are just irritated as heck with me, then you didn’t really apply yourself. Hey---wouldn’t you rather be in awe than irritated? Well, then go back and do this exercise.
People Are Our Mirrors
Okay. For those in awe, let’s get clear about what just happened: people are our mirrors. People are our teachers. When we are angered by another, it is because we see in them what we most dislike in ourselves.
Now, I’m not talking about the drunk on the subway. He’s not someone you obsess over after he’s left the car. I’m talking about those people who follow you EVERYWHERE in your mind. Mother-in-laws, bosses, siblings…the people you wish you could just lay out with a good tongue lashing and have them be forever changed into...into...well... someone just like you.
But here’s the plan: these people are in your life because you still need to fix something in yourself. You are on some level noticing these jerks because you have some jerk-dom to still fix in you. It’s not a bad thing. It isn’t that you are a bad person. It’s just the way the we are wired and it's completely in our control (once we are aware of it).
We most dislike in others, that which we most dislike in ourselves. There it is. No one’s wrong or bad or messed-up. Everybody goes through this. So see it as your assignment. Make peace with the traits in the person you can’t stand. Make peace with the truth that you have these traits in you too. They may be well-hidden, but they are still there.
Give it a day. Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t do anything after finishing this article. I think you’ll be surprised at the shift that takes place in you and this person tomorrow.
There is a new section to "Work Stress Solutions" called "Co-Worker Stress." You may want to check out these pages on mindset, listening skills, body language, tone of voice and much more.
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