Jean Huber, LCSW

To Handle a Difficult Person, Control Yourself

It seems that interacting with a difficult person can often be an everyday occurrence.

As much as you may try to avoid them, they have a way of creeping into your life.

It may be your boss, co-worker, the cashier at the store, or a number of other people you encounter. Whoever it is, a difficult person can wreak havoc on your peace of mind—if you let them.

The key to remaining happy and calm while interacting with a difficult person is to practice self-control. It’s not exactly the easiest thing to accomplish, but the following tips can teach you how to conquer your own mind.

Honor Their Choice

People are who they are because they’ve chosen to be that way. No matter what happened in their past to mold them, it’s important simply to accept people as they are.

Life would be a lot easier if a difficult person could look in the mirror and see the damage they cause others. It’s not your job to hold the mirror, though. A foolproof strategy is simply to resign to tolerance and acceptance.

Practice Assertiveness

Assertiveness is often confused with aggression or even defensiveness. It’s important to remember that it’s neither. Being assertive is simply being your most authentic self in conversation.

This also means not taking any degrading, insulting, or negativity cast in your direction. A difficult person wants you to stoop down to their level of hostility and negativity.

In practicing self-control, do your best not to fight fire with fire. A calm and gentle answer can do wonders for halting negative emotions.

Set Healthy Boundaries

The idea of taking care of yourself first is becoming increasingly popular. And for good reason, too. When you are sensitive to your own needs, you can give yourself what you need to preserve your best self.

This idea of self-preservation is at the heart of setting healthy boundaries. It’s also an excellent way to deal with a difficult person.

You can’t control what they do or say, but you can control what you provide for your own person. Whether it’s distancing yourself, stepping away from the situation, or simply practicing mindfulness in the presence of a difficult person—set the boundary.

Avoid Letting Their Opinions Define You

Words are undoubtedly powerful. Sticks and stones and words can do a lot of damage.

Remember that you are who you are. You’re worth exactly the amount you think you’re worth. It was Eleanore Roosevelt who said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She’s right!

You don’t have to accept other people’s opinions of you. While everyone has a right to their opinion, you’re in no way obligated to take it to heart.

Remain Positive

Part of practicing self-control is choosing to remain positive in the face of a negative or difficult person. You have just as much influence as they do to steer the conversation in the direction you want it to go.  A negative person can’t force you to engage in their gossip, insults, or complaining.

Choose to remain positive rather than being engulfed by negative conversations. Remember that it only takes one small flame to light up a room filled with darkness.

Lower Your Expectations

Lowering your expectations of people might seem like you’re giving up on humanity. In reality, it simply prevents a lot of disappointment from happening.

Everyone is fighting their own unique battles, so try your best to be understanding—at least, as understanding as you’d want them to be towards you. We each have a different heartbeat and different set of life circumstances.

How, then, could you expect another person to act, feel, or think the same as you do? You can’t. But by tweaking your own mindset about how to deal with a difficult person, you can make these encounters much more manageable.

Certainly, practicing a healthy dose of self-control can prove to be one of the greatest keys to coping with people from all walks of life.

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