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No one likes dealing with a difficult person. Life would be so much easier if we could just avoid all the people we dislike.
But, as they say, life happens. You might have to work on a project with a vexing colleague. Or your biggest frenemy keeps showing up to professional mixers and social functions. Worst of all, you might find out your most irksome family members are coming for dinner.
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Successful people are often able to handle problematic personalities they have to interact with. It’s a delicate art, and one you can learn as well.
The first step is to take a deep breath and realize that this is part of life. Sometimes we have to grin and bear it. But there are a few things we can do to make the best of a challenging situation. If you take these 12 tips to heart, you’ll be able to successfully deal with a person you disdain.
1. Let It Go
Often we so dread interacting with someone we dislike that our anxiety levels start mounting before we even step into the room with that person. When your nerves are jangling, it can be all too easy to overreact and jump down someone’s throat or say something you might regret.
Emotions are like a genie: once you let them out of the bottle, it’s hard to get them back under control. So if you know you’ll be dealing with someone who stresses you out, take a deep breath and channel your inner Zen. Quiet your mind. Adopt a “let it go” attitude. If you feel your ire start to rise, focus on listening more and talking less. Remember, you don’t have to eat words you never say.
2. Focus On Healthy Ways To Communicate
If you find yourself dealing with someone who gives you chronic hives, it’s time to find a way to calmly but assertively express how you feel. Most problems stem from the way we communicate with each other. Instead of reacting (which often means overreacting), try explaining how you feel in a nonconfrontational tone. One of the best ways of doing this is by making “I” statements.
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An “I” statement uses the formula: “When you ___, I feel ___.” You might say something like: “When you focus on your phone instead of looking at me when I’m talking, I feel like you’re not valuing what I have to say.” Then wait to hear how the other person responds. Be specific about which behaviors make you upset and what you would like them to do to correct the problem. Once you’ve made your point, be sure to listen to their side.
3. Practice Civility
Extending common courtesies to everyone is a good rule of thumb, no matter who you are dealing with. Treating everyone with politeness and respect, even when you disagree, will create a baseline of civility. That means treating others as you want to be treated. Even small gestures of kindness can help ease tensions and forge goodwill.
Put on your best manners and focus on handling situations with grace and poise. If you do so, those around you will respect you and see you as having integrity. Avoid personal attacks and consistently act with a level of decorum and you’ll have the upper hand when dealing with those who want to tear you down.
4. Sidestep When Possible
The reality is that dealing with a difficult person can be similar to picking your way through a minefield. For example, you may know that certain topics are hot-button issues with a person. If that’s the case, it may be best to sidestep certain conversations.
Yes, you should be able to voice your concerns, and picking your battles doesn’t mean avoiding confrontation altogether. But you should also think carefully about what you decide to tackle and when—many of our problems are situational and may dissipate with time. Consider what issues are worth your time and what you’re feeling emotionally up for dealing with. If someone wants to discuss something you know is going to make you (or them) see red, calmly tell them you want to table that discussion for the time being.
5. Fake It Till You Make It
Staying composed isn’t always easy, especially when dealing with someone who grates on your nerves. Instead of trying to beat them at their own game, it may be time to bluff your way out.
Think of this as an opportunity to perfect your ultimate poker face. If this were a game of high-stakes cards, you would do everything in your power to conceal your hand. You would be deadpan, showing only what you want to show. This in essence is how you distance yourself from someone emotionally, and it’s a great way to give yourself emotional space during difficult situations.
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6. Be Mindful Of Your Emotions
While you may be practicing presenting an expressionless face to the world, don’t attempt to ignore your emotions altogether. Though emotional distance means keeping someone at arm’s length, you also have to stay mindful of how you are feeling. You can’t stop someone from pushing your buttons if you don’t know when it’s happening.
So take note of your inner emotional rollercoaster. What is this person saying or doing to tick you off? By recognizing what is going on with you internally, you can take steps to keep them from doing it again, such as knowing when to disengage. Find a way to give yourself space to regroup and move on.
7. Put A Positive Spin On It
If you have to deal on an ongoing basis with someone you dislike, it may be helpful to try to put a positive spin on how you perceive them, or at least have fewer negative assumptions about them.
So instead of focusing on a pessimistic thought (“My co-worker just looked at me and rolled her eyes — she must be thinking something negative about me!”), try to see it from a more neutral standpoint (“My co-worker rolled her eyes, but she might not have intended that toward me. She might just be thinking of something else, like how much work she has…”). Reframing it this way will allow you to feel less provoked and help you let little things go.
8. Find Common Ground
Instead of avoiding a person who drives you crazy, you may want to try spending a little more time with them. This probably goes against every fiber of your being, especially if the person makes your list of Top Most Annoying People. But if you spend a little more time getting to know them, such as working on a project with them, you’ll get to understand them better.
As they say: walk a mile in another person’s shoes and you will see things from their perspective. Taking the time to understand a person you dislike can help you have more empathy and compassion for them. You may see that there are reasons they are the way they are. Being able to build a rapport with them will help you bridge those frustrating communication gaps. You may even find that you have more in common than you imagined.
9. Recognize The Value In Differing Opinions
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Understanding other people’s perspectives is an important leadership skill. After all, managers and leaders are called on to oversee people from a variety of backgrounds.
From the standpoint of getting the best performance out of your employees, it doesn’t really matter if you like them or not; nor does it matter if they like you. In fact, it can be helpful to seek out the perspective of people with vastly different points of view. They may be able to offer unique insights that challenge and provoke new thinking.
10. Take A Good Look In The Mirror
If you’re having ongoing issues with someone and are having a hard time understanding why, you may want to look inward. Ask yourself what it is about this person that sets you off. Are you letting your sensitivities blow a situation out of proportion? Sometimes we let jealousy or envy get in the way.
Could resentment be playing a role in how you deal with this person? It can also be easy to misinterpret someone’s actions or read ulterior motives into them. Is there something in your own experiences that may be unfairly influencing how you see someone? It’s important to be aware of your own biases or preconceived notions. Recognizing that you share some of the blame may be the first step toward correcting a problem.
11. Find Your Circle Of Trust
Don’t attempt to tackle everything by yourself — that will only leave you feeling isolated and more frustrated. Try tapping into a support system. Turning to a trusted circle of friends will give you the space you need to feel heard, allowing you to vent and air your grievances.
A mentor or a trusted colleague may be able to offer advice on how to deal with a particularly touchy situation at work. Just knowing that someone understands what you are going through can be helpful. And your friends may be able to give you a new perspective on how to handle a challenging person.
12. Focus On Yourself
The bottom line is that you only have control over yourself and your own actions. Instead of fixating on how much you dislike someone or how angry they make you feel, focus on your strategy for handling them. Think about what you can do to limit their ability to get under your skin.
Don’t allow yourself to fall victim to a disagreeable person. They aren’t worth it. Remember, no one can drag you down and steal your joy unless you let them.