I’ll start with a confession – I live with a difficult person. Wait, let’s make that plural…people. Difficult people.
Obviously, I’ve got a complicated family. And between you and me, I’d really rather just hole up in my room and let them all hash their issues out.
Unfortunately, the less difficult ones in the family have all designated me as “The Difficult Person Whisperer”. So, whenever there’s something to discuss, no matter how minor, they look to me to facilitate or do a special “massage”, in their own words.
No, it’s not the kind of massage you think! It’s simply a kind of approach for handling difficult people.
Do you have your own set of difficult people? Maybe like me, you often feel like you’re at your wits’ end dealing with them, but maybe like me, you also didn’t know that you actually do it exceptionally well!
Well, here are 10 signs you are. I guess this list will serve as confirmation that you’re the DP whisperer in your own corner of the world.
Let’s dive in!
1) You’ve got patience
Obviously. Wells and wells of it. Or at least a longer string than the average person has.
It’s no secret that difficult people will try our patience with behaviors like:
- Being overly critical
- Refusing to cooperate (Going along to get along? What’s that?)
- Constantly being argumentative
- Never owning up to their mistakes
And that’s just to name a few!
There’s no getting around it – to handle difficult people exceptionally well, you’ve got to call on all the powers that grant patience so you don’t lose your own shit.
All joking aside, I’m sure you have your own way of summoning patience. Maybe you count to ten (or a hundred if it’s that bad), do deep breathing, listen intently…
Whatever strategy you’re using, it’s a sure indication that you know how to master your emotions. Which brings me to my next point…
2) You can stay calm in tense situations
Have you ever had to play referee between two irate people? Ever been tasked to break unpleasant news to the DP in your family? Or had to deal with a confrontational customer at work?
I know, it feels crazy-making sometimes, doesn’t it? But what can you do if you’re the one who can stay calm and composed in challenging situations like that?
Managing your own emotions while navigating through others’ strong reactions is no easy feat. It’s a skill that requires a lot of emotional intelligence and a good dose of self-awareness.
(That’s why we should be extra nice to people in people-facing jobs like retail, restaurants, and the like. The way they have to put up with customers’ bad behavior is nothing short of heroic!)
3) You’ve got excellent communication skills
Aside from emotional intelligence, you also have a way with words. You know exactly what to say and how to say it.
I suspect that this is one of the reasons why I’m the DP Whisperer in my family. As a writer, I tend to have a good grasp of how to deliver news, how to soothe ruffled feathers, how to get a disagreeable person to agree…
I don’t say this to brag nor to convince you to become a writer. I’m just pointing out how having superb communication skills goes a long, long way in dealing with difficult people.
But you probably already know this. I’m sure you already know how to put things in just the right way, in just the right tone.
So, more often than not, you can make your point without making an enemy. Your middle name is Tact, and your last name is Clarity!
4) You’re clear about your boundaries
On that note, I’d like to talk about boundaries. I know I’ve said that dealing with difficult people involves a lot of patience, which some people might misinterpret as being all nice and a pushover.
But that’s not the case at all.
In fact, PsychCentral states that boundaries are especially crucial for dealing with challenging people. It’s the emotional equivalent of putting on your own oxygen mask first. Without them, we’re bound to be resentful.
How exactly should we go about the delicate matter of asserting ourselves?
First, make it clear that it’s about YOU and YOUR limits. Not about them or what you want them to do. You want them to see that you’re simply stating YOUR needs/desires. They can’t argue with that, can they?
Second – be firm, clear, and most of all, neutral. No need for emotional statements or justifications. When dealing with difficult people, it’s always wise to be matter-of-fact.
Imagine yourself to be the voice of reason, because well, in this scenario, you probably are.
5) You don’t take things personally
Unfortunately, to keep being the voice of reason can be a tall order when the other person’s getting on your nerves.
What helped me be the paragon of reason I am today (ahem!) is learning to not take things personally.
You see, what I’ve realized over the years is that it’s rarely about me. Someone ranting at me or being disagreeable is that way for reasons that don’t involve me at all.
For instance, my sister has been especially difficult to deal with lately. One day, I was telling her about my plans to go on vacation when she suddenly snapped at me, saying it was inconsiderate of me to talk about that when I knew she’d just lost her job.
I admit I was taken aback by the violence of her response. But I could also tell that it wasn’t even about me, even if she clearly used the words, “You’re so inconsiderate!”
It was her frustration over what was currently happening in her life.
I can think of hundreds of other times I resort to this strategy – not taking things personally – and every single time, it has made me shake off the negative vibes more easily.
After all, why should I absorb all that energy when it isn’t even about me? If you understand what I mean, then that means you do handle difficult people well!
6) You can see things from other people’s perspectives
This actually goes hand in hand with not taking things personally. I’d say it’s the first step to get to that point.
As they say, hurt people hurt people. There are all sorts of reasons why difficult people are the way they are; there are underlying patterns and triggers that we may never know.
That’s why I think that the right way to go about it is to simply listen. Just get to know where they’re coming from.
That doesn’t mean you excuse their behavior, but it does help you to be a little more gracious and understanding.
And you know what? Sometimes that’s all they need.
7) You try to develop rapport
There is perhaps no better example of someone who handles difficult people well than a hostage negotiator.
If you observe how a negotiator communicates, you’d notice how the first thing they do to de-escalate a situation is to develop rapport.
This involves strategies like listening and acknowledging their feelings and perspectives.
Going back to my own family as an example, another reason why everyone thinks I find it easier to deal with the difficult ones is because I have a good relationship with them. The consensus is that they’d be more open to listening to me.
The same may be true for you. If you don’t balk at the thought of finding common ground with a difficult person, you’re already miles ahead.
8) You focus on solutions, not just emotions
While we’re on the topic of negotiations (because, really, that’s how most interactions with difficult people feel like), what do you focus on while you’re talking to them?
If you say “solutions”, that’s pretty much a sign that you can handle them exceptionally well.
Remember, difficult people are full of messy emotions. Frustration, anger, despair, entitlement…it’s a whole lot of drama!
But because you’ve got the ability to wade through messy emotions, you can let it all slide off your back like you’re dipped in waterproofing material and focus on resolving the situation.
9) You’ve got a great sense of humor
Oh, this is a big one. I think that humor is one of the most powerful tools that can defuse the most tense of situations. It can soften what could otherwise be a confrontational interaction.
That said, it’s all about timing and appropriateness. Knowing when to use humor is a skill in itself.
Not only does it help in the moment, but it also helps you manage your own emotions in the aftermath.
For me, it has helped me to not take myself too seriously. It has put things in perspective for me so that the frustration I feel doesn’t loom too large and ruin my whole day. Sometimes you just gotta shake it off and laugh about it!
10) You practice self-care
Lastly, if you handle difficult people exceptionally well, you take care of yourself, especially your mental and emotional health.
This is a crucial ingredient – the gift that lets you keep on giving.
There are many ways to make sure that these difficult interactions don’t take a toll on you. One of them is boundaries, which we’ve already discussed. Another is to seek support when you need it.
And third is to detach yourself. This has been so useful for me and has helped me stay sane after such interactions.
You see, difficult people have a way of making you feel responsible or obligated to them. They can exert pressure and control.
That’s why I make a conscious effort to step back and remind myself that I’m not responsible for their unhappiness.
No one wants to deal with a difficult person, but such is the reality of life. And as with many unpleasant realities, the best way to deal is to see the lessons in it.
You can see them as a way to develop patience. To build up your “grace muscle”.
As challenging as they are, difficult people deserve just as much respect as anyone else.
Besides, isn’t that the true meaning of love – to love the unlovable?
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