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How to deal with difficult people

Struggling with difficult people? Try this out

We all have people in our lives who we would rather not have to spend time with. Many of the professionals I work with struggle to protect themselves from the ‘noise’ that comes from domineering or interfering personalities and this technique is often a brilliant way of helping them hold their ground.

Human beings are flawed and imperfect and we can’t be best buddies with everyone. If I was going to be trapped in a lift with Boris Johnson the consequences would probably be pretty dire. If there is someone in your life who you find rude, aggressive, irritating, arrogant or just downright draining, there is a very simple way you can protect yourself from the impact they have on you.

Once you familiarise yourself with this tip, you’ll be able manage your interactions with this difficult person more easily. You’ll also find yourself less caught up in potentially defensive thoughts and behaviours which are probably hindering you in having a more positive relationship than you might have thought possible.

Step one – the shield of protection

Step one is all about you creating a safe space from which you can speak to this difficult person. All you need to do is:

  1. Close your eyes for a moment.
  2. If you could imagine a shield which would allow you to see and hear someone safely, but their words could somehow disappear or bounce off your shield as they come towards you, what would that look like?
  3. Take all the time you need to become familiar with your shield – what colour is it, is it transparent, is it moving or still? Do you have a feeling that comes with it? Is there a sound that comes with this shield? What do you notice about it that means it feels particularly safe?
  4. Now imagine speaking to the person in question from behind this shield, noticing how much safer you feel now that you’re behind it.
  5. If this person says something to you that you find rude, aggressive or hurtful, imagine their words either bouncing off your shield or somehow being destroyed so you don’t need to feel their impact
  6. Practice this in your mind at least a couple of times so that you have more confidence using it in the real world

You can get really creative with your shield of protection. I’ve had clients create transparent bubbles, rings of fire, an electric fence, a brick fortress – the possibilities are endless. Just allow your imagination create the shield that would feel safest for you.

Stage 2 – put your compassion hat on

We all have moments when we behave imperfectly. And we all have moments when we wish we hadn’t said or done certain things. A principle I strongly believe in is this: everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have at the time. By ‘resources’ I mean emotional resources – when we’re feeling happy, relaxed, creative and calm we tend to behave in a more resourceful and positive way than when we’re stressed, tired, anxious or sad.

If you were to reflect on times when you behaved in a way that didn’t feel like you, what was going on for you at that time? Were you having a bad day? Was there something worrying you? Did you simply not have the maturity or knowledge at that time that would have allowed you to act differently?

This isn’t an exercise in condoning rude or offensive behaviour. It is simply about appreciating where other human beings might be coming from if they are behaving in a negative way.

So the second part of this exercise is to put your compassion hat on and simple being open to the question of “I wonder what’s going on for this person that means they believe they have to behave in this way?” We are all fellow strugglers, even if the difficult person you have in mind appears to be an entitled, spoilt, arrogant brat. They are still walking this path of what it means to be a human being.

Practice makes perfect

Practice this a few times over the course of a couple of weeks and see how it works for you. The more you practice it, the easier it will become. For some of my clients this approach has made all the difference in managing their energy and maintaining healthy boundaries in their relationships.

I would love to hear how you get on and how it impacts on your relationships, both at work or at home.

Contact me

I frequently work with professionals who have to manage and juggle challenging relationships both at work and at home. I help them maintain better boundaries, prioritise their self-care and learn how to trust themselves more. If this is something you’re struggling with then please don’t suffer in silence and get in touch for a free, no obligation conversation to see how you can move forward.

11 July 2018