Published on 21st September 2017
Difficult People are Everywhere
Difficult people shout, they are rude and dismissive, use insults like normal people use compliments, they interrupt and are poor listeners. Sometimes they are oblivious to their behaviour and how their rudeness or aggression impacts on others. Those that are aware actively choose to use their rudeness as a tactic to unsettle and bully those people around them into agreeing to their preferred course of action. In short they are unpleasant and can often be debilitating to those that are unprepared or reluctant to tackle them. Like a sky full of black clouds difficult people can spoil your day and make you feel apprehensive, uneasy and sick in the stomach when you have to deal with them.
Possessing the mental toughness personality trait can help you manage those people and those situations to your advantage so that you feel perfectly comfortable around them.
“Mental toughness is a personality trait comprising the combination of resilience and confidence. Being mentally tough equips you with the calm and resolve to help you retain control of your emotions in potentially volatile situations such as these. Furthermore it gives you the confidence and spirit to take on these difficult people on your terms.”
If you aren’t naturally mentally tough, you can “buy” a ‘mental toughness’ season ticket for the day and “fake it till you make it” by doing what mentally tough people do when they have to deal with difficult people.
Here are 5 ways to deal with difficult people
1. Stay calm and reasonable
Learning to stay calm and by not being goaded into a reaction is the first and most important piece of advice. Once the other person has provoked you into an emotional response they have immediately gained the upper hand they are seeking. Often you can feel the fear or the fight rising steadily within you, like a cake in the oven and your natural reaction is to react and potentially “lose it” with an emotional response, be it an outburst or tears or walking away. You have to learn to dissolve that feeling long before it manifests itself in a reaction. There’s some trial and error here on exactly how you best achieve this but once you have navigated a few such difficult situations successfully this will become much easier.
Suggestions on the trigger you need to stay calm include counting to ten internally or taking a deep breath or focusing on what is being said rather than who is saying it. For me the old nursery rhyme advice that “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me” resonated sufficiently as did the gradual realisation that someone provoking me or shouting at me was, in the grand scheme of things, inconsequential. This gave me added confidence to handle similar situations more effectively in the future.
2. Respond not react
Another benefit of staying calm and composed is that it enables you to proactively respond rather than negatively react. Feeling calm, in control, thinking and acting from a position of strength rather than being out of control and trying to recover from what you have said or done will help you figure out a better way of handling the issue. A way to ensure that you respond rather than react is to put yourself in the difficult individual’s shoes for a moment. By empathising with the person you can often diffuse the situation, as they then don’t have any opposition to their case. In effect what you are doing is understanding their position to the fullest rather than agreeing with them.
3. Put the pressure back on them
Once you have empathised with them put the pressure back on them by calmly pushing them for a solution. Difficult and aggressive people try to make you feel uncomfortable or inadequate by putting you down and focusing on what they think you are doing wrong instead of being collaborative. If you can calmly and repeatedly ask them constructive and probing questions about how they can solve the problem may disorientate them sufficiently to dissolve the situation.
4. Stand your ground and stick to your facts
It can be difficult to stand your ground if you are being physically intimidated but, as much as you can, don’t cave in to the pressure and stick to your beliefs. Avoid being drawn into an emotional reaction or bullying. Any bystanders as well as the bully will notice your renewed strength.
5. Pick your battles
This is as much a general as specific piece of advice but as much as its frustrating to do so sometimes the easiest and most efficient approach is to save your energy and mental anguish by walking away or avoiding the conflict altogether. Over time you’ll learn which battles to pick a fight on, generally those that are most important to you on a matter of principle, and which you should leave well alone, i.e. those that are less important or outside your control.
Mental toughness is a great trait to develop and most successful people have it because it helps them manage their work and daily life better, including dealing with difficult people.
Explore the 4C’s (Control, Commitment, Challenge, Confidence) within the MTQ48 mental toughness model although in this case it’s your control and confidence that shines through when dealing with these people.
Paul Lyons is an experienced CEO, Coach, Speaker, NED and MTQ48 accredited. As CEO of Mental Toughness Partners, he assists individuals and organisations to develop their mental toughness to improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find him at paullyons.com and mentaltoughness.partners