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Difficult People

Eventually in life, we all meet people that we consider to be difficult to deal with. They may be friends, teachers, or bullies. But, whoever they may be, we know that dealing with them is no easy task. It can be especially frustrating if you are ill-equipped to handle such a person. Unfortunately for me, my parents came from the "old school" of thought with regards to these types of people, and I essentially just had to buck up and make the best of a bad situation. But, I want more for my children. I want to teach the coping strategies that will not only help them appropriately handle these situations today, but in the future with bosses, co-workers, friends and neighbors as well.

In his book, "Coping with Difficult People", Robert Branson, Ph.D., defines difficult people as people whose personalities show repeated patterns of behavior that are either hostile-aggressive, complaining, silent-unresponsive, super-agreeable but never follow through, negative, knowing it all or indecisive. That encompasses a far larger group of people than I had originally considered difficult. I typically have thought of the grumpy boss or teacher, a bully or a bossy friend. In never occurred to me to think of complainers or total introverts as being difficult - I considered them annoying yes, but difficult, no. But these types of personalities can be particularly draining if you are paired with them for a project, or a friend plays the misery one-upmanship game.

We all admit these guys are out there - pretty much everywhere you go - hence the saying "there's one in every crowd". The question is: how can we teach our young people to effectively deal with these people without giving in or giving up. Dr. Branson suggests the following six steps:

  •   Assess the situation. Don't just react; take a deep breath and try to see what is really happening.
  •  Accept there is a difference. Stop wishing the difficult person were different.
  •  Find a safe space. Distance yourself from the difficult person, both emotionally and physically.
  •  Make your coping plan. Will you stand up to the bully? Will you offer a safe haven within your friendship to the silent/unresponsive personality? Should you listen to the constant complainer and find the truth behind his fears?
  •  Implement your plan. When your negative co-worker starts fretting over how the work won't get done, say, "Hey, you said that last night ... and the night before ... but we always get the work done. We're a team."
  •  Monitor the effectiveness of your coping strategy and alter it when needed.

Perhaps your teen tried to stand up to the bully, a hostile-aggressive type. Usually, taking a stand turns the bully's attention elsewhere, but if a person is really bad, such as intentionally engaging in acts that cause great pain and sorrow, repeats these acts, offers an unbalanced justification for his cruelty or shows absolutely no remorse; support your teen in avoiding this person completely. There are some people that cannot be, and should not be, coped with.

In addition, try to help your son or daughter view these people as opportunities for growth instead of just problems to be handled. And, also review your child's responses to see if, just maybe, their reaction is over the top for the circumstance. There are probably going to be times when your child has the opportunity to see you dealing with such a person, and those teachable moments can be priceless. However, these moments can also do a great deal of harm if your child witnesses you losing it.

The reality is that dealing with difficult people is a lifetime challenge, and none of us gets it right all of the time. The best we can hope is to teach our children well, learn from our mistakes, and pray for patience when the video guy charges you for being five minutes late in returning your movie!




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