As the holidays approach, we all continue to be challenged by people (friends and family) that are difficult to deal with. Additionally, the comments on my previous posts such as 7 Tips To Get Along With Your Mother-In-Law which were interpreted as “Kiss Ass tips” needs to be revisited.
Instead of devising elaborate avoidance schemes or barbed comebacks, you can change your dynamic with these sanity stealers. Use the following strategies to end the emotional tug-of-war, once and for all.
Turn the Spotlight on You (Excerpt from “My Lifetime.com”)
“You must change how you react to people before you can change how you interact with them,” says Rick Kirschner, N.D., coauthor of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand. That requires some self-examination.
People who irritate us usually have something to show us about ourselves. “Ask yourself: How is this person holding up the mirror to me?” suggests Sandra Crowe, author of Since Strangling Isn’t an Option. For example, being around my chronically late friend reminds me how quick-tempered and impatient I can be — not my favorite traits. Reminding myself of this may keep me from bouncing off the walls when I find myself waiting for her yet again.
If it’s a good friend or intimate, think, too, about your own behavior in the relationship. Have you contributed to the strain by saying yes instead of no too many times? Did you neglect to signal early on that something was bothering you? “If you don’t look at your own actions, you end up making the other person 100 percent of the problem,” explains Susan Fee, author of Dealing with Difficult People: 83 Ways to Stay Calm, Composed, and in Control. That also puts the solution squarely in her hands — and out of yours.
Delving into the root cause of your frustration can turn up problem-solving insights. Fee provides an example from her own life: “When I first got married, my mother-in-law drove me crazy. She was always hovering and intrusive. But after asking myself again and again why she bothered me so much, I realized what was going on: Her behavior was foreign to me because I never knew what it was like to be mothered — when I was 12, my mom had a debilitating stroke. It became clear that this was just my mother-in-law’s way of showing her love for me. Once I understood that, our relationship improved.”
“Most of the time, difficult people just want something different than we do,” says Ronna Lichtenberg, author of Work Would Be Great If It Weren’t for the People. “Or they handle things differently.”
It’s no surprise, then, that you may be your difficult person’s difficult person. It could be a matter of opposite outlooks: Super-friendly people, for instance, may be at odds with all-business-all-the-time types — and vice versa. The same goes for laid-back folks and workaholics. Understanding those basic differences gives you a glimpse of someone else’s viewpoint, which may help temper your irritation.
If you’re having trouble feeling empathetic toward someone you care about, try analyzing her behavior. This strategy worked for Alicyn Mindel, a mom of two from Providence who struggled for years with her friend “Dina,” who was a terrible listener. “Whenever I started talking about my personal problems, she would turn the conversation around to herself. Then, one day, a different pal was talking about attention-starved people, and I realized Dina fit the description perfectly. From that moment on, every time Dina and I got together, I gave her a big, long hug. The transformation was amazing: She became warmer, more open, and over time, she started asking me about my life — without segueing into her own issues.”
Choose Your Approach
Armed with your insights, you now need to decide whether to confront the perpetrator. As a general rule, you should talk things over only with someone you’re close to, whether that’s your husband or a longtime colleague. It’s probably not worth stirring the pot if you only see him once a month, like an in-law or acquaintance on the PTA board. (For people you don’t know at all — say, the salesclerk who’s more interested in her cell phone chat than in helping you — you’ll need a different strategy.)
You can also skip the conversation if you know it will fall on deaf ears, or if you suspect it will be taken the wrong way. That was the case with Mindel: “I never addressed the issue with Dina because she tends to be defensive. I knew I’d have a better chance of fixing our friendship by changing my actions.” A good litmus test for determining whether or not to start a conversation is first to imagine the worst-case scenario. Then ask yourself, Will our relationship survive? If you’re confident it will, set up a time to talk. If it won’t, try a tactic that’s less confrontational.
Start a Dialogue…
Before you say anything, you have to do a little homework. How exactly do you want the behavior to change? In the long term, what are you expecting from this relationship? Until you can answer those questions, you’re not ready to talk to anyone.
If you fear a bad reaction, plan ahead: “Figure out in advance how you’re going to respond,” advises Fee. “Will you walk away? Breathe deeply until he calms down?” This exercise can also help you focus on what might trigger a heated response.
Make sure no one will interrupt the conversation and pick a time when you’re not hungry or tired, so you can give it your full attention.
…And Follow These Talking Tips
Take a Less Direct Approach
Sitting down for a heart-to-heart won’t work with everyone. At times it’s better to resolve an issue in a more roundabout way, even with loved ones. For example, humor can be especially effective. If your sister has a habit of psychoanalyzing you every time you chat, Alyn suggests saying, “Wow, I feel like I should be lying on a couch for this. How much do I owe you?” Here, more ways to fix those frustrating interactions:
- Put the difficult person to good use. When Bette Walter, an entrepreneur in Blue Bell, PA, is considering a new business move, she turns to a friend who always shoots down her plans: “I ask her what she thinks before she can tell me what a dumb idea it is. She’s very logical, so it’s helpful.” For know-it-alls, steer the conversation toward a topic you’re interested in, so you can at least learn something until you can make your getaway.
- Remember this rule: If you can predict it, you can plan for it. “If you see an incessantly forlorn coworker walking your way, get up and leave your desk,” says Kirschner. “Or pick up the phone and pretend you’re speaking to someone. If you stop listening to her, she’ll eventually stop coming over.”
- Get the last word. If someone is giving you unsolicited advice, saying “Thanks” will usually put an end to her rant. When you’re around a braggart, just smile, advises Crowe. Then reply, “Wow, that’s really great. I’m so happy for you.”
- Plan an exit strategy. When you can’t get a chatty person off the phone, pretend that you’ve been interrupted by someone else, so you can quickly say, “Sorry, gotta go.”