Do You Struggle with Difficult People?

Difficult people are everywhere. You can find them at work, in your neighborhood, at the local store, in government offices, in customer services and even in your own home. Now, to be honest, we can all be difficult at times, but today I’m talking about what I refer to as chronically difficult people – the people whose behavior is often obnoxious, rude, aggressive and just plain frustrating. In other words, their behavior is predictable… predictably difficult!

Difficult people come in a variety of styles with behavior patterns that fit some classic categories. The Tanks bully their way through every situation, steamrolling anyone who stands in their way without considering how others feel. The Exploders use “shock and awe” to get their way by blowing up so others learn to tiptoe around them or give in to prevent an angry outburst. The Know-it-All has to answer every comment and conversation with information designed to make themselves look better. The Super-Agreeable Charmers are those people who are the first to volunteer and make commitments, and then often don’t deliver (because nobody could keep as many promises as they make) which leaves everyone else stuck with more responsibility or unmet expectations. The Clams use silence as a powerful weapon to control people who are trying to gain consensus or move forward with ideas. The Indecisives can stymie negotiations and progress with their wavering and worry. The Wet Blankets can suck the fun out of anything with their negative attitudes and complaining. The Snipers wield a double-edged sword of appearing to agree and support, while secretly sabotaging and demeaning.

Do you often find yourself not knowing how to respond, cope or live with these individuals? If so, you’re not alone. The reason some people seem so difficult is because they fail to follow the social rules that the rest of us follow. As we mature personally and socially we learn that it’s not polite to interrupt people, call them names, make jokes at their expense, dominate conversations or bully them into our way of thinking or behaving. Difficult people generally ignore these rules – or may even be unaware of the rules due to dysfunctions or unhealthy perceptions. Whatever the reasons for their inappropriate interactions with others, they tend to alienate and significantly frustrate those around them.

Since there is no escaping difficult people in your life, how do you manage your interactions with them in a healthy manner? Here are just a few things you can do:

1. Try to understand what motivates the difficult behavior. The degree to which you will be able to do this depends on how well you know the person, but if you are aware that they struggle with chronic illness, grew up in harsh circumstances or suffered trauma and loss, you are better able to see why their behavior reflects defensiveness, fear or anger. If you don’t know them personally and are only dealing with them in a professional capacity, give the benefit of the doubt that there is a reason behind the behavior. This may not change what they do, but it can diffuse your frustration and temptation to react with hostility due to taking it personally.

2. Try to look past the inappropriate interactive style and see the merit of what the difficult person is saying or doing. The fact that some people have difficulty relating well doesn’t mean they don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute. Think before you respond, making every effort to address the core issue rather than focusing on the behavior. Many difficult people have been treated extremely disrespectfully and act out disrespectfully because of that. Offering the genuine respect they need can give them the opportunity to respond more appropriately – but if they don’t, it will still create a more positive experience for you.

3. Maintain healthy boundaries for yourself and the difficult person. While it is beneficial to understand the source of difficult behavior and make the effort to respond appropriately, it is not healthy or acceptable for you to be subjected to abuse. Any of the difficult behaviors, when taken to extreme, can become abusive and it may become necessary for you to stand up to a bullying Tank or Exploder or confront a gossiping Sniper. You may need to talk frankly to a Clam or a Super-Agreeable Charmer to let them know how their behavior is affecting you and your relationship with them. Respect yourself enough to address the issues and you may improve the difficult behaviors as well.

4. Keep your expectations realistic. Most people don’t become difficult overnight, and most won’t change their behavior very quickly either. As you become more experienced with each difficult person in your life, you can determine what you can let go and live with and what must be addressed. In rare cases when there is no reasonable expectation that someone’s behavior will change, eliminating your interactions with them may be the only option.

If you have a difficult person in your life and nothing you have tried seems to help, don’t give up – there is hope. I have an audio resource packed with more helpful information and strategies for dealing with difficult people in a very effective way. If you would like to learn more about this valuable resource CD click here.

Remember, you don’t have to be held hostage by the difficult people in your life nor do you have to change jobs or move to a new town to get out of their way. Take time today to invest in yourself by learning how to master the strategies that will make your life less difficult.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd


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