How To Deal With Difficult People – A 4-Step Strategy
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Why Are Difficult People Difficult?
First of all, difficult people are hard to deal with because they’re unaware of the impact they have on the people around them.
They just don’t get it.
You’ve probably been giving them cues… and they’re missing them. That what they’re saying or doing is offensive or hurting people.
Another reason some people are difficult is because they let their emotions lead them instead of managing their emotions. They might be explosively angry or defensive or they might be flatlined, where there is very little emotion.
The last thing I want to mention that makes some people difficult is when they lack the relationship skills to be in a healthy relationship.
This comes from a couple of places… It comes from a place of fear or a place of pain.
This is the perspective that I want to give you — these people are hard to be around because they’re either fearful or in pain.
Of course, knowing someone is in pain or is feeling afraid doesn’t solve the issue that they’re still difficult to deal with. So, here’s a four-step strategy for how to deal with difficult people.
Step #1 – Know Yourself
You start by understanding what’s going on inside of you, what you’re thinking and feeling and what you really want. Process through these questions (read about this process here). You may even want to journal these questions.
This step is important because once you figure out what you want, then you know the end game with this person. Stephen R. Covey says it like this:
“To begin with the end in mind means… to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”
Now, this is a long-term AND short-term strategy. In the short-term, you can process through your emotions and get to the bottom of the answer. Once you process this, you can choose how you want to act according to your core values.
And you can also have an end goal (long-term strategy) with this person.
For instance, say that your adult daughter, Liz, is “visiting” you but doesn’t have a date when she is going to leave. You identify that your goal is to have a strong connection with her. So, this decision influences how you speak with her and you might even try different ways to connect with her to see what works with her.
#2. Create Safe Spaces
We need to focus on connection and not on being right to create a safe space.
Brené Brown says, “Courage gives us a voice and compassion gives us an ear. Without both, there is no opportunity for empathy and connection.”
In the example of your adult child, Liz, you create safe spaces to foster a close connection with your adult child. You do this by listening to understand. So, you validate her thoughts and feelings, even if you don’t agree with them.
Truth is, you don’t have to agree with someone to validate what this person is thinking and feeling. You can use phrases like “I hear you” or “I can understand that that would be difficult for you”. Responding like this shows that you care. In no way does it take any power away from you.
Instead, it helps the other person to feel safe and heard. Of course, you need to show genuine care and understanding.
#3. Find Shared Purpose
This is where you find something that you agree on and this becomes your starting point with this person. When you find shared purpose, then you’re on the same team and you can work together to solve problems. When you’re not on the same team, then you can’t solve problems together.
This quote from Henry Ford explains it well:
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
So, for the example with Liz, you both may agree that you want to have a strong connection. Then you would start the discussion with that end goal in mind.
#4. Stick To Your End Goal
Even though you want to work towards having a shared purpose, I’m not suggesting that you should lose yourself when dealing with a difficult person. Establish clear boundaries with them by telling them: “This is what I’ll do and this is what I won’t do.”
With the example of the adult daughter living at home, you might say:
“You are welcome to live here for the next 3 months while you look for work. But my expectation is that at the end of the 3 months, you’ll have a job, your own place and you’ll be able to support yourself. I believe in your ability to do this…
But I won’t over function for you so that you don’t have to grow up because I don’t believe that that is what’s best for you and I want what’s best for you.”
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend say:
“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”
So, setting those boundaries with people helps others to know who we are and what’s important to us. It also helps us to motivate others to do what’s best for them.
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Which part of the 4 steps resonates with you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments below! We love to hear from you.
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