Dealing with Difficult People: 17 Tips to Keep You Sane
By Sarah Felix
Use the following strategies to end the emotional tug-of-war, once and for
I like to imagine that I’m a kind, patient person. That I embody calm when
confronted with prickly personalities. That their aggravations roll off me like
water off a duck’s back. But this delusion is quickly dispelled every time I
have a run-in with a difficult person.
Take last week: My friend (let’s call her Liz) and I decided to meet at noon
for lunch. She’s often late, so I took my time walking over to the café. But
mid-stroll, I became paranoid that Liz would be punctual for once, so I rushed
to be there on the dot. She was nowhere to be seen. I breathed deeply,
rationalizing that now I had some coveted alone time. That lasted all of four
minutes. At 12:08, I called Liz on her cell, convinced I’d given her the wrong
address. She never picked up. Ten minutes later, she showed up with a big smile
and zero apology.
“Oh, don’t be mad at me. You know I’m always late,” she said. “It’s just
part of my personality. Besides, haven’t you enjoyed all the great people
watching?" My reaction was less like a duck, more like a rabid dog. The
worst part was that my emotional equilibrium had been knocked off-kilter. It
took me a good 15 minutes to calm down enough to actually enjoy spending time
with my friend.
Trying personalities like Liz’s are everywhere — in your home (possibly
sharing your bed), at the office, in your book club. They may even be complete
strangers. What makes them difficult may be an undisputed character flaw —
they’re sycophantic or self-centered or perpetually gloomy — or simply a quirk
that rubs you the wrong way. But inevitably, a brush with them leaves you
fuming or at least out of sorts.
Instead of devising elaborate avoidance schemes or barbed comebacks, you can
change your dynamic with these sanity stealers. Use the following strategies to
end the emotional tug-of-war, once and for all.
Turn the Spotlight on You
“You must change how you react to people before you can change how you
interact with them,” says Rick Kirschner, N.D., coauthor of Dealing with
People You Can’t Stand. That requires some self-examination.
People who irritate us usually have something to show us about ourselves.
“Ask yourself: How is this person holding up the mirror to me?” suggests Sandra
Crowe, author of Since Strangling Isn’t an Option. For example, being
around my chronically late friend reminds me how quick-tempered and impatient I
can be — not my favorite traits. Reminding myself of this may keep me from
bouncing off the walls when I find myself waiting for her yet again.