Whether it's family, work, relationships, or friends, we all deal with difficult people in different ways. Holidays often extract the most trying characteristics out of everyone. I recently became "adopted" by my new "yoga/God parents" Ed and Deb Shapiro. (Don't worry paternal family, I still love you guys. . . there is room for it all in this life!) Anyway, Ed and Deb help me put things in perspective, and realize when I'm wasting my energy fixating on certain things. Plus, they gush about how proud they are of me. It's adorable and sweet, and if I can be in the moment and absorb what is happening, it's powerful jet fuel for my life and soul.
Up until about 6th grade (this is so embarrassing to admit) I would cry whenever I was in the middle of a difficult situation. It was mostly due to the injustices of Catholic grade school, acted out by the disgruntled, jealous, emotionally and spiritually stuck teachers who held court there. This topic probably merits an entire collection of blogs, and possibly a book if I could wrangle submissions from my classmates who have vivid stories of their own.
My outpour was a reaction against people (in positions of power) who acted badly. I would always do what I could about the situation. This included accompanying other students when they were dragged into the hallway for verbal abuse, putting desks back together when they were dumped out by teachers (a psychologically wacked habit of the extremely dissatisfied), and dodging erasers and other blunt objects thrown by teachers. Most of us stood up for each other. We were a rebel army facing a cruel dictatorship every day for nine years.
A fundamental problem with my grade school approach was the lack of control over my physical reaction. If I had been able to have control over my feelings, I could have helped more. School was a lesson in humanity.
A quick story (one of the lighter ones) in dealing with difficult people.
I was in kindergarten, and it was Thanksgiving time. We were set up at easels and instructed to paint a turkey. While my portrait was in progress, Mrs. X approached and asked me why my turkey had only two legs. I thought this was an interesting game in reasoning, and she wanted to know how I knew that the Turkey was a two-legged bird. I told her that I had seen turkeys on my grandmother's farm that my family visited frequently. So by witnessing, Mrs. X, I know that the turkey is a two-legged bird.
Mrs. X didn't like my answer. She grabbed my hand that held the paintbrush and painted two more angry turkey legs on my happy turkey. Now my turkey has 4 legs. What a silly turkey! I kept the portrait from my mom because she would think I had a problem if I thought turkeys had 4 legs. I eventually showed her and explained the difference in brush strokes between the 2 squiggly legs, painted by a happy kid, and the other 2 sharp strokes done by angry Mrs. X. She believed me by about the 6th grade after hearing similar stories through the years.
My turkey painting was compromised but it taught me a valuable lesson in dealing with difficult people. It also makes a good story around holiday time.
We all deal differently.
Here are 10 ways to deal with difficult people without driving yourself crazy.
1. Have Compassion
How sad it must be for Mrs. X to be going through her whole life believing that turkeys have four legs! When we can have compassion for people who are stuck, it changes how we communicate and feel in the moment.
2. Extract from Personality
A trap in dealing with difficult people is getting wrapped up in their personality. When we can stay objective and remove ourselves from other people's roller-coaster psychology, we have a much better chance of moving through the situation positively. As Ed and Deb advise, talk to people on a soul level. They'll feel respected and you'll soften the situation.
3. You and they are the same
Yeah, I know this is an out-there concept. But when we can leave the rat race of our thoughts out of the situation, we realize the suffering others are dealing with is the same suffering we are dealing with. There's comfort in that.
4. Distance yourself from the outcome
Dealing better with difficult people doesn't mean you are always going to get the outcome you are looking for. Sometimes you'll get what you want by forcing your way. Is that the best approach? It might be at times, and we have to use our awareness and intentions to decide the best way forward. It can also happen that what we're so sure we want right now isn't what we'll want in 10 minutes or 10 days. Softening ourselves a little to allow this perspective is a great help.
5. Stand up for yourself
It's not always "all good." It's a trap to get caught up in the happiness of yoga and meditation and lose yourself to a blissed-out path. This mistaken perception of yoga has held back individual progress, and interfered with truly wide-scale access to the many benefits of yoga. It's important to stay solidly here in our bodies, and use good discernment in standing up for what we know is right.
6. Practice lovingkindness
I'm pretty sure Sharon Salzberg has the trademark on this one. In her work she leads meditations that focus on sending lovingkindnessto yourself, to people you love, neutral people you know, people you're in conflict with, and to everyone. It is a helpful and powerful practice.
7. Choose your battles
In a silly argument you may be right, but who really cares? You'll use more energy than it's worth. Save your efforts for more serious situations.
8. This too shall pass
Kindergarden doesn't last forever, and your moment of conflict will pass. And then there will be another one.
9. Vent to a friend
Unfiltered venting to a friend about difficult situations can be helpful. But it can work against you if your life turns into complaining.
10. Take the time to unwind
A hot bath, time with a book, or five minutes of meditation helps tremendously with recharging and grounding us so we are more equipped to deal with everything life throws our way.
And here is some advice from a few of my Twitter pals.
@MichaelTaylor8 Dealing with someone difficult? Remember their difficulty is their difficulty. You can listen, understand, maybe help, but not get caught.
@petitebelette I focus on my breath and think positive things! That way the primary concern is inhaling and exhaling to clear my mind :)
@weightroomtalk The first thing I do in a difficult situation is to make sure I dont react emotionally. From that calm, I respond appropriately.
@myMeditation I visualize them as children trying to get my attention. If I momma them, they calm down. I know that my calm demeanor helps.
@gregtarnoff Patience, logic phrase din their own words/thought patterns. Staying calm undoes the tension, don't play their game.
@SignalPatterns I go through 2 phases: (1) assume the person just needs affirmation and love and be as kind and attentive as possible... and -
@ookiee dealing w/ diff ppl: Patience when required; avoidance when possible.
@HaleyFitness Direct communication and a head-on approach. If I avoid the issue ot only gets worse.
@abbyladybug I assume there's part of the story I don't know that is making them act that way (temporarily or permanently)
@17_brianna The easiest way for me to deal w/ difficult people is just to ignore them.
@13BeatKing Deal w/ difficult people by being patient and staying calm. I accept that they're hard to work w/ & I'm up for the challenge.
@DorseyShaw Killing them with kindness usually works for me. If it doesn't, I'll just walk away before I'm force to kick them in the shins.
@LindsayVirginia I kick 'em in the shins.
How do you deal with difficult people? Enjoy and happy holidays.
Follow Tara Stiles on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tarastiles