By Kate Taylor
The yackaholic who hogs every conversation. The co-worker who gossips and tells lies about us. The in-law who comments on our every weight fluctuation.
Most of us have at least a few annoying, difficult people in our lives. People who jack up our blood pressure and set our teeth on edge. People we’d absolutely love to mute. Or better yet, delete.
Sadly, we’re not omnipotent. But we can be the next best thing: unflappable.
With the right arsenal of coping skills, we can prepare ourselves to handle any and all of those who would otherwise destroy our peace of mind.
Spot the gremlins (annoying, difficult people) who like swiping peace of mind. They include:
- People who twist our words and claim that we’re lousy communicators.
- People who make subtly or overtly demeaning comments to us, or disguise such comments as “jokes.”
- People who don’t respect our boundaries and seem to enjoy stepping all over them.
- People who aren’t willing to consider our points of view or listen to our opinions. These types typically respond to us by staring blankly, laughing or blowing up.
- Verbal or emotional abusers (these can also range from subtle to overt)
- “Crazymakers.” In other words, people who try to provoke us into acting crazy or worrying that there’s something wrong with us.
- Excessively charming people who are too good to be true and have ulterior motives.
The following 20 tried-and-true coping skills can help us avoid fruitless confrontations and survive all kinds of personal and professional situations with our happiness intact.
- Listening is the number one step in dealing with “unreasonable” people. Everyone wants to feel heard. No progress can take place until the other person feels acknowledged. While you’re listening, really focus on what the other person is saying, not what you want to say next.
- Stay calm. When a situation is emotionally charged, it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment. Pay attention to your breathing. Try to take some slow, deep breaths.
- Don’t judge. You don’t know what the other person is going through. Chances are, the person who is being unreasonable is feeling some kind of vulnerability or fear.
- Reflect respect and dignity toward the other person. No matter how a person is treating you, showing contempt will not help productively resolve the situation.
- Look for the hidden need. What is this person really trying to gain? What is this person trying to avoid?
- Look for others around you who might be able to help.If you’re at work and there’s an irate customer, quickly scan to see if a colleague is close by.
- Don’t demand compliance. For example, telling someone who’s upset to be quiet and calm down will just make him or her irate. Instead, ask the person what they are upset about—and allow them to vent.
- Saying, “I understand,” usually makes things worse.Instead, say, “Tell me more so I can understand better.”
- Avoid smiling, as this may look like you are mocking the person. Similarly, humor can sometimes lighten the mood, but more often than not, it’s risky and it may backfire.
- Don’t act This is tough. You’re naturally not enjoying it when annoying, difficult people say nasty things or things that you know aren’t true. You’re going to want to defend yourself. But the other person is so emotionally revved up, it’s not going to help. Remember, this is not about you. Don’t take it personally. (I know, easier said than done.)
- Don’t return anger with anger. Raising your voice, pointing your finger, or speaking disrespectfully to the other person will add fuel to an already heated situation. Use a low, calm, even monotone voice. Don’t try to talk over the person. Wait until the person takes a breath and then speak.
- Don’t argue or try to convince annoying, difficult people of anything. Unreasonable people are un-reasonable.
- Keep extra space between you and the other person.Your instinct may be to try to calm the other person down by putting your hand on on their arm, or some other similar gesture that may be appropriate in other contexts. But if someone is already upset, avoid touch, as it might be misinterpreted.
- Saying, “I’m sorry,” or, “I’m going to try to fix this,” can go a long way toward defusing many situations.
- Set limits and boundaries. While some of the above tips have encouraged listening and letting the angry person vent, you also have the right to be assertive and say, “Please don’t talk to me like that.”
- Trust your instincts. If your gut is saying, this is going downhill fast, be ready to do what you need to do to remain safe. Look for an exit strategy.
- One response does not fit all. You must remain flexible. Although these guidelines have proven effective in de-escalating tough situations, every person is unique and may respond differently.
- After the situation is over, talk to someone about what happened.
- Discharge your own stress. You had to put your natural reactions on hold for a while. Now is the time to discharge some of that pent-up adrenaline. Go for a run. Take your dog for a walk. Don’t let the emotions stay stuck in your body.
- Give yourself credit for getting through an uncomfortable situation. It takes a lot of energy not to act like a jerk when you’re dealing with annoying, difficult people. Don’t skip this step!