Tips to Survive Difficult or Challenging Interactions with People

Surviving Difficult People

Many of us will have to survive difficult people

It may be a friend, neighbor, co-worker, boss, teacher, or another student. Some of these people come and go in our lives, and some of these people are more permanent. Either way, trying to work or get along with difficult people can take a toll on us if we don’t find skills to manage these situations well.

Take Evelyn for example. Earlier in the day, she had a difficult interaction with a business associate who has been repeatedly disrespectful and dishonest. Every time she communicates with this individual, she feels like she is immediately on edge, frustrated, and angry.

However, during her most recent interaction, she was able to catch herself and notice the tension in her chest. She noticed her cheeks feeling warm. She noticed some impatient (and unkind) thoughts towards the person. And then, she reminded herself to stop, breathe, and handle things in a healthier way. Like Evelyn, all of us could use assistance with these types of people.

Here are some steps that may help manage relationships with difficult people

Take Time to Breathe

When confronted with a situation involving a difficult person, it is important to breathe and acknowledge your feelings. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling? Where do I notice it in my body?” Try and calm down those parts of your body. Also, try to notice what the other parts of your body are doing. Many times, when we are overwhelmed by stress or anger, we fail to notice the parts of our bodies that are calm and centered.

Remember, we can’t change other people, but we can only take care of ourselves

Try to be aware of the issues that you bring to the situation. Maybe your typical pattern is to give in and avoid the conflict. Or maybe you want to fight back. Whatever it is, don’t react. Just breathe, accept the distress, and sit with it for a moment. Notice other feelings that you may have, notice 5 things around you that you see, feel, smell, and hear.

Take a break to emotionally distance yourself

If you are on a computer or other electronic device, walk away or close your laptop for awhile. Let your breathing return to normal, and your body rest. There is no reason to respond hastily. In fact, there are plenty of reasons not to respond in this way. Often times, when we are upset, our emotions react first, and our thoughts react afterwards. Take the time to let your thoughts catch up.

Use some meditation

Consider a kindness meditation for both you and the challenging individual. One brief example is to say to yourself “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at peace.” Follow then with thoughts for the troublesome person: “May (the challenging person) be happy, may the (challenging person) be healthy, and may (the challenging person) be at peace. Repeat these words until they resonate with you. By wishing the other person well, we often feel better about ourselves as well.

Remember your values

I find it helpful to write out a summary of my values, and keep it near at my desk or on my refrigerator. Ask yourself what kind of (employee, boss, mother, friend, colleague, etc.) you want to be? What kind of attributes to you want to have? For example, do you value honestly, fairness, or hard work? Do you value kindness, assertiveness, or respect? What best describes you? It may be helpful to craft your own mission statement for your family life or your work life, or both.

Here are the mission statements of some famous executives:

Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbells Soup: “To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference.

Oprah Winfrey: “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”

Sir Richard Branson: “To have fun in [my] journey through life and learn from [my] mistakes.”

When you respond to the person, either in person, or by e-mail, remember these values

If you respond in ways that are different than your values, how will you feel about yourself? How will you feel in general? Science tells us that the happiest people live according to their own values. When we respond in ways that are different, we tend to have more internal conflict and emotional challenges.

Martin Luther King Junior has a great quote that bears repeating in circumstances like this: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Our values are tested when we are faced with difficult people. These are the times where we learn about ourselves and who we want to be. By weathering these situations, we gain strength and confidence in ourselves if we make choices consistent with our values.

Be Compassionate Towards Yourself

Last, but not least, show yourself compassion. (Refer to my earlier blog post on self-compassion if needed). Dealing with difficult people is not easy. Remember that it takes practice, and that you won’t do it perfectly every time. But, by even trying to live by your values, and not immediately reacting to the difficulties, you will continue to build confidence and strength in this type of situation, and you will be happier and healthier.


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