Joan and Melissa Rivers Demonstrate How to Live with Difficult People

01/12/2011 09:40 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Eli Davidson Woman's Small Business Mentor, Small Business Success Mentor, International Best Selling Author and TV Personality

What would you do if your mother moved in with you? What if your mother were... oh... say... Joan Rivers? Melissa vented some of her feelings here on HuffPost. She called me to get coaching on how to navigate the wild waters of living under the same roof with her Mom. Fireworks ensued when I worked with them on "Joan Knows Best."

If you have challenging folks anywhere in your vicinity here are some tips, research and tools:

It's Not About You, Baby.

"The best way to have a great mother daughter relationship is to... have a gay son." -- Joan Rivers.

Ouch. A lot of what Joan says about Melissa is easy to interpret as, "You don't appreciate me. You're not a great daughter." If you have a parent, that might ring true for you. It does for me sometimes.

Here's What I Told Melissa:
When someone is tired, upset or stressed (translation: human) they direct their own negative emotions at other people. Usually, they take aim at those they love. Why? Strangers wouldn't put up with it. Those negative outbursts have nothing to do with you. It is easier to dump than to deal -- particularly when you are in a hurry. (The Rivers's life is a blur of busy. When time is crunched nerves are more tender.) I bet you can relate; I sure can.

For All of Us:
It takes great courage and time to reflect to unravel the knot of the buried deeper issue. Those negative outbursts have nothing to do with you. You don't need to fan the flames by defending yourself. If you can have the perspective that everyone is doing their best (Translation: They have a good reason for what they are doing regardless of how cruddy it looks to you), you can rise to a powerful vantage point: compassion.

The Research:
Davis & Oathout, researched the positive effects of compassion on long-term relationship satisfaction. Numerous studies show that relationships thrive since compassion and forgiveness allow each person to drop negative issues and look at things from the other person's perspective.

Turnaround Technique:
Take some deep breaths. Stand up. Walk around. This will help you shake off your reaction. Say the word funky five times to vent, and fabulous five times. (Sure, it sounds crazy, but this NLP pattern interrupt will help you keep your equilibrium.) Use this strategy you disconnect from your reaction and put yourself in the other person's shoes. As I saw with Joan and Melissa, the person that behaved badly will often apologize later.

If You See... It You Be It:

"Everyone has boundaries...I just choose to ignore yours." -- Joan Rivers.

What a breeze life would be if all the issues had nothing to do with us. Wouldn't it be nice if it were that easy? Darn. I wish it were that easy myself. Since we human beings are complex, there's a flipside to Number One. Here's how it works. When someone irritates you your feelings are motivated by your own insecurities.

Here's What I Told Joan:
Joan loves structure. You don't get to be 78 with a rip roaring career without a great deal of rigorous discipline. Joan complained that Melissa did not run a "tight ship." (My experience with Melissa and her team was that every detail was handled with the precision of the Swiss rail system.) Even though Joan said she wanted order -- she was the person creating the chaos. Joan's behavior was making it impossible to run a "tight ship." I reminded Joan that she gleefully tested boundaries... like cursing in front of her grandchild or giving some of Melissa's furniture away and redecorating the living room without Melissa's knowledge. If she really did want a better relationship with her daughter, she needed new behaviors. Initially, Joan claimed that "I'm 78 this is the way I am!" It took some doing, but I convinced Joan to use this situation to learn some new tricks.

For All of Us:
A difficult person can help you see and grow parts that you can't see on your own. So, guess what? Challenges are an invitation to grow new capabilities. Using the situation to grow is key.

The Research:
Carol Dweck, Ph.D. at Stanford documented that people are reluctant to take on challenges if they believe the results were based on innate abilities. In her book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," she saw that people with a mindset focused on growth believe that they can learn, change and develop new skills. Her studies show that people who use experiences to learn are better equipped to handle challenges and accomplish their goals.

Turnaround Technique:
If you are irritated by another person, tough as it is, remember that they are doing you a favor. They are giving you a road map to show you where your insecurities are hiding. You can use that as a guide to what skill to build. Here is your GPS: Every word of complaining about them is you critiquing yourself. It's easier to give everyone more leeway when you remember, "If you see it...You be it."

The Secret Game Changer:

"You are my Cesar Milan." -- Joan Rivers

When we slap up next to someone that is, as my Mom terms "an irritant" -- we want to run, hide or fight. It is our natural fight or flight response. How do you take a quantum leap -- and not react? Is there a trick to get our brain to find a new pathway to handle a tough situation differently?

You have a natural building block of learning, and developing new behaviors. It is highly likely that like the rest of us you have poo pooed it. Brain researchers, like Neil Greenberg, Ph.D., suggest that problem solving requires rich neurological connections between different areas of the brain. When does the brain naturally create those pathways? When we are at play. Yep. Play.

What I Told Joan and Melissa:
When the going gets tough... the smart start... playing. When you actively engage your strengths (play) to build new habits, you can jump into a new skill set faster. Both she and Melissa are very savvy business women. Joan loves money, so it has her attention. I had them play my game "Pay Yourself To Pay Attention" to become aware of and then change their criticism of one another. One jar was negative. One jar was positive. Joan and Melissa physically put money in one of the jars for every negative or positive comment they made.
It was so effective that they used the game to lower the use of expletives around the house and created a Swear Jar.

For All of Us:
Instead of reacting, use the power of play to create a new response. The faster you can spot a negative reaction the easier time you have not letting it affect your equilibrium. By harnessing the state of play your brain goes into a natural state of problem solving, creativity and even emotional bonding.

In my book, "Funky to Fabulous," I explored the connection between playfulness and how it makes the brain more pliable and open to new information. Dr. Paul McLean, through his work at Yale Medical School and the National Institute of Mental Health, found that play was one of the nicest things evolution did for us.

Turnaround Technique:
Pay Yourself To Pay Attention. Give yourself a point every time you have a negative thought or positive thought. (You can use post-its if you want to write it down.) Watch how fast you are able to have a new way of relating.

Who is the most difficult person in your life? What are some of the ways that you deal with difficult people? What advice do you have to help others with an "irritant"?

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Eli Davidson is a nationally recognized motivational speaker and executive coach. Her book, "Funky to Fabulous: Surefire Success Stories for the Savvy, Sassy and Swamped," (Oak Grove Publishing) has won three national book awards. Check out her blog at

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