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Dealing with Difficult People

How to Manage and Improve Challenging Relationships

Each day gives us the power to choose – what we will do, how we will think, and with whom we will interact. But let’s face it. Sometimes we just have to deal with the circumstances and personalities that are thrust before us.

Some people naturally add to their environment. They exude energy and uplift those they encounter. We strive to be these kinds of people, contributing to our world and our relationships while offering solutions to the challenges we face.

But some people suck. That is, they suck energy. Instead of contributing to creative ideas, they seek to undermine their success. Instead of seeing positive possibilities, they only promote pessimism. They perpetuate problems. They don’t solve them.

We may work with these people. We may live with these people. Were it our choice, we would avoid them, but we cannot. So how do you “deal” with difficult people?

Don’t combat negativity. Diffuse it.

First, you must understand you can’t win at their game. They have way too much experience, and it’s not the game you want to play, anyway. As the saying goes, “Never wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty and the pig likes it.” In other words, you cannot create a positive solution from a negative current. Negative people feed off of conflict, confrontation, cynicism, sarcasm, and other low-level emotional states. These people “vibrate” at a frequency of irritation. Your only course is to change the channel – the polarity of the relationship. Re-tune the dial to a higher frequency. Here are some tips that will help you.

  • Expect a positive outcome. When you encounter negativity, you must actively resist the temptation to be drawn into conflict, sarcasm, or cynicism.
  • Begin with yourself. Take a deep breath (or a few) to adjust your energy. Adopt a welcoming (non-confrontational) posture. Make eye contact. Listen.
  • Watch your language. Avoid critical or condescending words, which would only provoke a defensive response. Give attention to the tone of your words, as well as the content.
  • Anticipate, acknowledge and elevate. Expect negative responses. Validate their perspectives and opinions (this is the hard part), then offer a different (higher level) view point. Example: “I understand how you feel about that, and it does make sense, but what if we approached it a little differently …”
  • Change the focus. Sometimes the best way forward is a way around. Take a positive conversational detour, possibility even using humor, to break the pattern of negativity.
  • Think long versus short term. Consider this a challenging, but fun, ongoing project. Like a talented sculptor working in marble, continue to chip away at the hardened exterior of your subject to reveal the beauty within. It will take time. Offer only kindness, joy, and higher-level questions. Love them anyway.

We don’t always get to choose our companions on the roads of life. But we can, mile by mile, choose to build better relationships, even with those who are difficult.

  • Eric Chester says:

    I love the strategy “don’t combat negativity, diffuse it.” That’s a keeper. In fact, I like your entire 6 point methodology and will incorporate it in my relationships.

  • Stephanie Craig says:

    Very inspiring…I know quite a few friends who need to utilize this right about now!

    • Dan Thurmon says:

      Excellent! Spread the love. Just be sure to tell your friends that you don’t consider them part of the “difficult” demographic. Otherwise, it could definitely backfire!

  • Van Brown says:

    Good points all. “Expect a positive outcome” is consistent with the way I’ve observed you dealing with people. Thanks for sharing these.

  • Francine says:

    Well said! This reminder is perfectly timed – the universe at work. I’ve never heard the saying about wrestling with a pig…Good one!

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