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Know Someone that Thrives on Being Difficult? How to Cope

By Edited Jul 1, 2016 0 0

Dealing with difficult people takes a mix of patience, kindness and a strong ability to communicate. It is not always easy to cope with people who are combative and seem to gain pleasure from giving you a hard time.

Emo boy 03 in rage
Credit: José Miguel Serrano/Creative Commons-Attribution

Ever meet someone who just can't seem to live in harmony? What do you do?

Difficult people emerge in all facets of life. These types surface in the workplace, school, at a place of business or even in the home environment. Difficult people can show themselves in most any kind of professional or social setting. How many times have you tried to work with an insurance company or doctor's office and run into a staff member who is nothing less than obstinate? What about that family member or friend who seems to thrive on giving others a hard time?

Chances are somewhere in your life you are going to run into someone who just wallows in either negativity or controversy. The way you handle the interaction may depend upon the circumstances and the role you play in the situation.

For instance, if you are an employee dealing with a demanding customer you have to keep your composure under any circumstances or else risk trouble with your employer. In a home situation there is a bit more latitude in your reaction if you are in dispute with a family member. No one is going to fire you.

Regardless of the situation or role you play, there are still some common approaches to dealing with a difficult person. The key is to be proactive and not reactive; the latter seldom leads to good results because of the volatility element often involved.

Not sure how to approach a situation where you are coping with a difficult person? Here are a few tips to help you when you are in dealing with someone who is not very cooperative and/or determined to continue being combative:

Try To Be Understanding

Perhaps the problem is simply the person is frustrated, needs help and is reaching out to you, even if his or her demeanor isn't the nicest approach. Sometimes all someone needs is a helping hand or an attentive ear, and this pulls him or her out of the mindset of being obstinate or problematical. A little kindness can often go a long way. The first step is to try to understand; see if this approach doesn't turn the situation around. If the situation is ongoing, it may not be as simple, but it is worth a try.

Smile and Kill 'Em With Kindness

If the person being difficult seems to be thriving on being argumentative, chances are he or she is just looking for a reaction.

The old saying, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar", holds a lot of truth. This philosophy works for difficult people too. If you find the person is being intentionally combative with no real legitimate reason behind his or her behavior other than the fact he or she is enjoying riling others up; a smile may put the brakes on the situation. 

Once the person sees he or she isn't going to get a negative reaction from you, he or she will likely lose interest in being difficult. Many testy people act this way simply because they are frustrated and, for whatever reason, it helps to make other people miserable too. Don't take the bait or fall into this trap and you'll be far better off,

common fly
Credit: Gwendoline63 via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/common-house-fly-fly-housefly-328648/

Take a Time-Out

Sometimes simply taking a deep breath and walking away can improve a challenging situation. Emotions run high and taking a time-out can diffuse a situation where someone is being difficult. Just calmly excuse yourself from the situation, go take a breather and return to the conversation when the situation has had some time to settle down.

What if it doesn't settle down even after taking a break? If it's not an important issue, make it a permanent time-out. Just tell the person you have no interest in continuing the discussion. Sometimes this isn't possible, but there are those times where it is simply best to walk away.

Remain Cool and Collected

If you stay cool and calm during your interaction with a difficult person, this will improve the situation regardless of the ultimate outcome. It is usually best to not add antagonism to the mix because that will only probably escalate his or her intent to be difficult. Additionally, he or she might use it as a justification to continue to act that way.

Instead, don't take the bait and remain collected; keep emotions in check. A person will find it harder to be difficult when talking with someone who is acting completely rational. Most of the time the person will quickly realize he or she won't get anywhere.

Ignore the Person if Possible

This one will depend upon the relationship you have with the person; in a professional environment, this won't help the situation, but in other situations outside the workplace this may help.

If the person won't have a calm discussion and you don't have a good solution that is acceptable to him or her, you can simply ignore and make it clear you'll return once he or she is willing to be rational. If you choose this course of action it is important to be proactive and positive about the situation. Antagonism seldom makes a situation easier; the positive approach in communication is usually better effective.

Dealing with difficult people can be challenging, but if you don't take the bait, keep your composure and take a positive approach to the situation, the person will be easier to contend with in the immediate situation or even in the long-term.

Credit: TBIT via Pixabay CC0 public domain https://pixabay.com/en/blinker-fish-fischer-leisure-hook-949107/

A difficult person will often try to bait because that person thrives on controversy or just likes to try to be controlling by luring someone into a combative situation.



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  1. Peter Appleton "4 Ways To Deal With Difficult People." Life Coaching 4 Wellbeing. 19/02/2014. 29/09/2014 <Web >

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