One of the great lessons I learned in life was to stop focusing on other people and to focus on what I could change about me. I only wish it had happened twenty years earlier. I especially wish I knew how to deal with difficult people in my life.
I have made every mistake in the book and then some; but after all those mistakes and writing hundreds of articles about resolving conflict in the workplace, dealing with bullies, and trying to improve the health and wellness of the modern workplace, I finally got it.
There are some common characteristics of difficult people but every single difficult person that we encounter is different. That makes it harder to prescribe a simple remedy and needs a wide arsenal of tools in order to deal with “your” difficult person. Yet, two things are almost always true about any difficult person.
Two Absolute Truths About Difficult People
1. You cannot change them: No matter what you do, you cannot change someone. They have hardened their skins and their brains against any attempt to alter their behaviors and they are determined to stay as they are.
2. It’s better to work on yourself or the situation: Secondly, if you are particularly bothered by someone then you have to do something about yourself or the situation. As Mahatma Gandhi said “You must be the change that you want to see in the world.” But if it makes you feel any better go ahead and try to change the difficult person in your life. Let me know how that works out for you.
How to Deal with Difficult People
The good news is that if you are willing to do them there are lots of things you can actually change about yourself, at any age. They include your thinking when you are open to new ideas and your attitude when you are willing to try a different approach. When you are faced with a particularly difficult situation in your life it’s important to remember that you always have choices.
The first is whether or not you want to stay in that situation. This can apply to a job or a company or organization, a relationship or even a marriage, small situations like a restaurant that is too crowded or noisy for you to feel comfortable. There are consequences which may be extreme or very minute but don’t fall into the trap of saying that you are stuck. You always have a choice.
If your decision is to stay in that noisy café, lousy job or unsatisfying relationship, then you will still have choices but they will be limited. It is unlikely that the company you work for will suddenly change how it treats you or that the restaurant owner will shut up and tell everybody else to be quiet. It is almost equally unlikely that the other person in your marriage is going to change the way you want, no matter how much you may want it.
The reality is that you can either accept the difficult situation or person exactly as they are and hope that someday they or you do something to improve it. That doing begins with you — change what you can. One path will let you sleep at night; the other has the potential to become a living nightmare. The choice is up to you.
So what have you chosen? Tell us how you deal with difficult people or situations in your life.
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