We all have them. When they walk into the room, it seems to suck the life out of everyone. When they call in sick, you breathe a sigh of relief, and your day instantly becomes better. You dread their input in meetings and their snarky or whiny comments in the workplace. Whether they are aggressive and selfish or the perpetual victim of all circumstances, I’m sure you have a coworker that secretly (or not so secretly) drives you up the wall!
While there is no magic pill to fix the situation, there are some things you can do to make work (family functions, church, etc.) more tolerable.
Here are some great tips from Dr. Mark Goulston, psychiatrist and former FBI hostage negotiator, on how to handle the difficult person in your life:
Recognize when you are dealing with a difficult personality (and make sure it’s not yours)! Difficult people tend to be self-centered and have a sense of entitlement for things that they don’t necessarily deserve. This can manifest in two distinct ways. First, the person can bully others to get what they want. Second, the person can be excessively needy and require a great deal of hand-holding. Understand that these types of people only behave well when they want something. Once they get it, it is back to business as usual. This will help you avoid being blindsided.
Hold your tongue (and temper). Challenging personalities get what they are after by throwing you off emotionally. Remind yourself not to become a part of the game.
Take a moment before responding. The longer you wait to respond, the more difficult it will be for the aggressor to escalate their behavior.
Dr. Goulston also offers three great verbal responses to just about any personality type.
1. “Do you really believe what you just said?” Say this in a calm, matter of fact tone, devoid of emotion. This may make the difficult person angrier, but at least it will throw them off their game when they begin resorting to hyperbole and “always/never” statements or accusations.
2. “Huh?” One simple, even-toned word can stop the momentum of even the most challenging person. This is most effective when the offender is saying something completely ridiculous and trying to pass it off as reasonable. This single word sends the message that what is being said doesn’t make any sense. Why does it work? You are making it clear that you are not going to engage in the content or tone of what has been said.
3. “I can see how this benefits you. Tell me how it will benefit me?” This is a useful response for dealing with the demands of a difficult person. If the person persists or changes the subject, simply say “I’m going to have to say no because it is not clear how this will benefit me.”
Unless you live in a bubble, you will have to deal with people like this at work, in the community, or maybe even at home. Arm yourself with the tips above to diffuse situations before they get the better of you.
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