We could all use a few suggestions for dealing with those difficult coworkers, obnoxious family members, or challenging neighbors that find their way into our lives. Some really know how to push our buttons and bring out the worst in us; others are stubborn or opinionated; still others can be rude, disrespectful, or argumentative. Whatever their unique behaviors are, they pose a challenge to everyone they encounter. It’s easy to become frustrated and short-tempered but that rarely makes the situation better. Some find it easier to simply avoid them whenever possible. That, too, can pose its own set of challenges not to mention that avoidance fails to teach us much needed skills to be successful in life. Here are five unique strategies that enable us to better handle difficult people:
1. Don’t judge: The first critical mistake most of us make occurs when we label and judge others. “This guy’s being a jerk!” “She’s so full of herself!” We form unflattering opinions on the individual based on how they are behaving. We fail to separate their actions from who they are intrinsically. That’s equivalent to judging someone by their physical appearance. We are not our behaviors. Labeling (creating a thought about that person) determines how we will feel about them. And we treat people based on our feelings. “Judge not lest ye be judged.”
2. Understand: The opposite of judgment is understanding. It is what all humanity seeks – to be understood. Each of us is struggling with internal issues and demons. A woman may have a sick child at home that she is worried about; your coworker is trying to balance a full-time job, supporting a family, and caring for an elderly parent. Anyone under these condition would be stressed to their limits. Behavior is an outward expression of what a person is dealing with internally. “Bad” behavior merely reflects an unresolved issue such as fear, pain, loneliness, embarrassment, etc.
3. Compassion: Not only do people seek to be understood intellectually, they also desire that others fully know on an emotional level what they are struggling with. One who has recently lost a spouse does not need to hear someone say, “Yeah, I lost mine too. You’ll get used to it.” What they are seeking is the emotional support that accompanies compassion. “I lost my husband last year. It was the loneliest time of my life. I’m so sorry for your loss.” Extending compassion bonds individuals on a deeper emotional level. It does not excuse poor behavior nor does it give permission for it to continue. One has every right to set fair and reasonable boundaries with the other party.
4. Assistance: In circumstances where we continue to have contact with the individual through necessity or choice, it is important to offer them whatever support they need pertaining to those issues that are causing them distress. In doing so, they may more relaxed and even-tempered. As each of us addresses and heals those issues our behavior automatically reflects that. If I can offer my personal experiences that are similar or share some insights or words of wisdom then hopefully the other party will embrace my contributions and recognize the value of change.
5. Patience: Most of us want what we want when we want it. However, this is not how personal evolution works. Growth takes time. Each of us in on our own personal journey towards enlightenment which cannot be hurried. “All things in God’s time.” Just as I did have not attained my present state of being in any predetermined time, nor can I expect that others will comply with my time frame and reach each pinnacle according to my dictates. Keep in mind, too, that I have not yet reached a state of perfection and others are respectful enough to extend the gift of patience to me as well. Therefore, I can expect no less from myself.
As a society, we have become much more compassionate towards those with physical disabilities. It would be completely insensitive and highly offensive were we to be abrasive or unsympathetic to those who faced greater physical challenges than the average individual. For those who are emotionally or verbally challenging, their disability is their inability to identify and heal their personal issues. One is of a physical nature, the other emotional yet both need to be treated with the same amount of sensitivity. We need to extend the same considerations to the latter as we do to the primary.
I hate clichés but this one certainly is apropos for this subject matter: remember that each person is a work in progress. And remember, too, it’s about progress not perfection. And while you are busy noticing the imperfections in others, be certain to first identify and work on your own issues. Make certain that you are not the difficult person others can’t deal with.
Matthew 7:5 “First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
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