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How to Deal with Difficult People

by Carrie Stemke

There are myriad types of difficult people, and sadly, they're an unavoidable part of life. Difficult personalities include self-important people, chronic complainers and people who are controlling, needy, or overly competitive. Despite coming in many different shapes and sizes, they all prompt the same negative emotions of stress and frustration in the people who meet them. There are a number of very simple, effective ways to deal with difficult people that will leave you feeling less stressed and unburdened.

Engage in a Little Self-Examination

It's tempting to focus on how aggravating a difficult person is, but it will actually be more useful for you to engage in some self-reflection. There's a reason why this person gets under your skin. Take some time to think about the negative traits the offender brings out in you. This activity can help you find ways to solve the problem, rather than just letting it eat away at you. For example, a chat with your nosy mother might bring out some of your own negative traits, like impatience. Keep this in mind the next time you talk with her, and use this knowledge to try to be more patient and open to her questions.

Listen Without Getting Involved

Many difficult people act the way they do because they feel marginalized or insecure. Surprisingly, the majority of difficult people really just want someone to listen and not judge them, writes best-selling author Deepak Chopra on oprah.com. If you're able to listen without getting emotionally involved, go ahead and do so. Chopra warns, however, if you start feeling like this person is taking advantage of you, don't be afraid to end the listening session. Being a good listener means being nonjudgmental and receptive to what the other person is saying. It does not involve allowing the difficult person to take out his frustrations on you.

Take a Quick Pause

When you're dealing with a difficult person, it's tempting to want to push back in some way. If you jump to answer her biting email immediately, you'll not only be acting on your emotions, but you will likely speak without thinking, warns mental health professional Donna M. White in an article for Psych Central. White recommends letting the rush of annoyance act as your cue to take a quick break before saying anything. If you're speaking with someone, verbally indicate your need for a break. If you're responding to a text or email, write out what you want to say and have somebody who isn't involved read it over before sending it.

Separate the Person and the Problem

It's valuable to remember that people are not made up of just one irritating trait. When you're dealing with a difficult person, separate the situation into two categories--the relationship you have with him, and the problematic behavior--advises communication studies professor Preston Ni in an article for Psychology Today. Ni recommends following up the mental separation by being soft on the person, and tough on the issue. This strategy will result in the person being more receptive to what you have to say, while simultaneously exemplifying your problem-solving skills. For example, you can say something like, "I'd like to help you, but it's hard for me to work with you when you're so angry. Let's take a break and I'll come back in a little while."

About the Author

A New York native, Carrie Stemke is an avid writer, editor and traveler whose work has covered many different topics. She has had a lifelong fascination with and love of psychology, and hold's a bachelor's degree in the subject. Her psychology research articles have been published in Personality and Individual Differences and in Modern Psychological Studies.

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