Change yourself to deal with difficult people
Do you keep hoping and praying annoying people will change for the better? If so, you are likely dreaming. That annoying whiner in your civic group or that family member who lives in a tailspin will likely stay the same forever.
A better approach is this: Figure out how you can do things differently. If you change, others will be forced to change. We all know people who might be described as a walking soap opera. These individuals seem to keep everyone’s nerves frazzled.
Before you waste any more time thinking about negotiating a change with a difficult person, try changing how you approach this individual.
These tips can help:
- Use their weaknesses to make a positive change. For instance, if someone is a control freak, appoint him or her to make out to-do lists for an event you are planning. Or, if someone likes to talk way too much, ask him to make calls to raise money for your organization.
- Be sure to step in, if you see trouble coming. For example, if you know the difficult person will skip an important work deadline, intervene proactively. Send out three email reminders ahead of the deadline.
- Ask key questions before trouble arises. You might ask the difficult person, “Do you feel okay about working on this project with Ann? Will you let me know quickly if the two of you don’t see eye to eye?”
It always helps to state your expectations with a difficult person. Voice the problem they’ll likely cause and tell them how to steer around it.
For example, if your elderly aunt always finds fault with people she hires for yard work or home repairs, give her some clear direction to change things – especially if it always winds up aggravating you.
For, example, you might say to this aunt, “I want things to go smoothly when you move into your new condo. Will you call a moving company instead of hiring an individual you choose at random? A company will have insurance and extra employees, if needed.”
With difficult people, it’s often necessary to take a few steps back as well. For instance, if drama surrounds certain people, disconnect somewhat to protect yourself.
“When my family members get into a heated debate over something, I keep in touch more loosely,” says a woman we’ll call Pam. “I might call them every four or five days versus every day. I have cousins who argue so much, it saps my energy to even think about the drama!”
Taking a step back can also mean you stop giving advice. For example, if you advise your nephew to buy a certain car – and it doesn’t turn out to be a good one – he might blame you for the next decade. His parents might blame you as well.
“Most of us know how other people act and react,” says a psychologist we’ll call Justin. “We could each write a script of other people’s lives and likely tell a lot about their future based on their personalities. We know who’s going to succeed and who’s going to fail. Let’s face it. The clues are all there.”
We can’t change a lot about other people, but we can take steps to protect our own mental health. We can decide, on purpose, how we will deal with difficult people. When we see some small, positive results, we’ll know we’re on the right track.
Tribune News Service
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