The truth is that to some extent, we’re all likely difficult for someone! Those who challenge us in life often mirror back our own insecurities and obstacles. By examining our interactions with those we find challenging, we gain valuable insights into ourselves, fostering personal growth and authenticity. In an ideal world, everyone would be chill, easy and fun as a lifelong friend, yet reality presents a spectrum of different personalities, from the demanding colleague to the overbearing family member.
Rather than analysing why certain people prove challenging, let's shift our focus to what lies within our control—our reactions. Exploring healthy coping mechanisms enables us to navigate interactions with difficult personalities more effectively.
Silence them on your phone - Activate the "mute alerts" option for their notifications, ensuring that frantic texts and "crisis" calls don't disrupt your day. Whether the printer is out of paper or your in-laws have missed the plane to come and visit, there's no need for these events to interfere with your life.
Listen - Whether you're truly paying attention and doing active listening, or not. Often, difficult individuals seek someone to vent to rather than a solution. If the negativity becomes overwhelming, feel free to propose changing the subject, both for their sake and yours.
Breathe in and Breathe out - In the midst of a stressful situation, take a break. Just a few seconds of deep breathing can soothe your fight-or-flight response. Find a quiet space (even the stairwell), inhale slowly through your nose, exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat for a minute, then return to the conversation with calmness.
They’re unlikely to change - While it would be fantastic if people recognised their irrational and overwhelming behaviour, the chances are slim. Unless they experience a profound "aha moment" or seek intensive therapy, it's probable that things will stay the same. After all, aren't we all like that sometimes?
Keep your interaction brief - Stick to small talk, light topics, and neutral conversation to minimise your engagement with them. For instance, discussing the weather is a safe bet. Avoid personal stories or revealing too much about your private life. If you discover a shared interest like a favourite movie (such as Notting Hill), feel free to discuss it. Otherwise, allocate 3-5 minutes of your time and then gracefully move on.
Mirror their behaviour - It's likely they'll feel the discomfort too (I'm currently experimenting with this approach). If they eventually approach you and comment on the discomfort they've experienced, responding with, "I've been mirroring your behaviour; the journey hasn't been pleasant, but it's been enlightening," might offer them a fresh perspective.
Don’t immediately agree - Trust your instincts and take a moment to reflect before responding. Allow the situation to settle and revisit it later. This approach provides an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective after stepping back.
Ignore them - and if none of the strategies seem effective, continue to respond politely without engaging further.
How to Set Boundaries?
Establishing clear boundaries is crucial to prevent emotional overwhelm, especially when dealing with challenging individuals. Mastering the art of setting boundaries is an essential yet often neglected social skill. Boundaries can encompass emotional energy, time, personal space, sexuality, material possessions, and apply to interactions with family, friends, colleagues, relatives, and even strangers. Setting boundaries is a way to protect and nurture yourself, but how to set up boundaries?
Recognise your needs - It's not selfish to acknowledge what you require and anticipate others to respect them (I'm still learning too...). Begin with small steps - identify areas in your work or personal life that you'd like to improve. Offer suggestions for positive changes in a constructive manner. Also, take a moment to reflect on why you often find yourself volunteering to pick up your neighbours' kids after school.
Explanation - Simply saying "no" is a complete answer in itself. There's no requirement to elaborate further or provide additional justification. It's important to recognize that your decision stands on its own and doesn't necessitate further explanation or validation.
Be prepared - It isn’t easy. As my father used to advise, "It's easier to say yes once than to say no three times." Fear of hurting someone's feelings or facing rejection is natural, yet asserting your boundaries respectfully allows you to maintain self-respect and uphold your own needs.
Dealing with difficult people is part of life, isn't it? But here's the thing: approaching these situations with a healthier, more caring attitude can make all the difference. By recognizing the traits of those around us and understanding how they might hit a nerve, we're actually opening the door to personal growth – it's like therapy in action!
Difficult people are all around us in every aspect of our lives. From the bus driver who didn't stop while you're late or your kids that are... just teenagers. Communication with other people is such a huge key to living our lives. It’s well worth learning some techniques to communicate effectively with difficult people to help us all live happier lives.
And, after a particularly trying encounter, it's time to treat yourself, right? Whether it's booking in for a much-needed massage or pampering yourself with skincare, you've earned it. And because I feel you, enjoy a cool 10% off your next order with the code MAGEAU10 – because you deserve a little pick-me-up!