5 WAYS TO HANDLE A DIFFICULT PERSON

Some helpful advice on how to handle living or working with a difficult person, and how to survive the stress.

MY EXPERIENCE

I’ve mentioned several times over the last couple of years that I struggle sometimes with work drama and coping with a co-worker whose personal life overflows into our work environment. What I came to see over time was the detrimental impact it had on my own mental health and it’s taken a long time to find a workable solution to the situation.

Recently I found a really helpful article on what to do if we are dealing with a difficult person in our life. If you’re interested you can read the article in full HERE.



RESEARCH

Research has found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions (like when we're dealing with difficult people), caused subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response. Exposure to even a few days of stress compromises the effectiveness of neurons in the hippocampus - an important brain area responsible for reasoning and memory. Weeks of stress cause reversible damage to neuronal dendrites (the small “arms” that brain cells use to communicate with each other), and months of stress can permanently destroy neurons. Which is a worry because I need every brain cell I can get - and want to hold onto them all long term!

So, what can you do to combat the stress that comes from dealing with a difficult person? 

Here’s a few suggestions that have worked for me.

1. SET LIMITS

I often feel pressure to listen to a complainer because I don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into someone's negative emotional spiral. I think it centres on the length of time an issue has been going on for. Short term upsets and genuine difficulty is much easier to empathize with than long term, self-focused, constant griping.

You can avoid the latter only by setting limits and removing yourself when necessary. Think of it this way: if the complainer were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? Would you put up with it day after day, week after week? No, you’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers.

I didn't set this boundary either to offend or please you. I did it to manage the priorities & goals I have set for my life.

2. RISE ABOVE 

Difficult people drive me crazy because their behaviour is so irrational. So why do we allow ourselves to respond to them emotionally and get sucked into the mix? Narcissists are unfixable - so it's better to look for ways to save myself, rather than trying to save them. I read a great article on recognizing a narcissist HERE and couldn't agree more.

Instead, we need to find ways to  distance ourselves from them emotionally - you don’t need to respond to their emotional chaos - only the facts. It all comes down to protecting your own mental health and staying sane in a difficult, ongoing situation.

3. ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES

I've noticed that a difficult person brings with them a continual state chaos, so my best action is to establish a boundary, and to do so consciously and proactively. If I let things happen naturally, I find myself constantly embroiled in difficult conversations. 

If you set boundaries and decide when and where you’ll engage a difficult person, you can control much of the chaos. The only trick is to stick to your guns and keep boundaries in place when the person tries to encroach upon them, which they will - over and over again.

4. FOCUS ON SOLUTIONS 

When it comes to toxic people, fixating on how crazy and difficult they are gives them the power. Instead of thinking about how troubling they are, I need to focus instead on how I'm going to go about handling them. This puts me more in control, and it reduces the amount of stress when interacting with them. 

It is not your job to make an unhappy person happy. You can guide the conversation toward neutral topics by gently acknowledging what they are saying, but then move on to something new, or find something to do elsewhere - a little distance can be a good thing.

you're allowed to walk away from the chaos. it's not your job to fix everything and everyone. you can't carry it all. it's okay to rest.

5. USE YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK

I've been fortunate to have a husband who is a professional counsellor - he is able to listen to my situation objectively and steer me into calmer waters.

We all have someone at work and/or outside work who is on our team, supporting us and ready to help us get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Having somewhere to download the day's events is an enormous help.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Do you have someone who is difficult or chaotic in your life? Any tips you can add to these to help smooth the waters and ease our interactions?

You can go HERE to read the full article. 


Some helpful advice on how to handle living or working with a difficult person, and how to survive the stress.

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45 comments

  1. Some great advice as everyone starts getting back to work. I especially like the smoking analogy when it comes to serial complainers.

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    1. I like it too Jo - it's such a great reminder that you don't have to sit there sucking into your own lungs and poisoning yourself in the process.

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  2. Very, very timely, Leanne, because I'm dealing with a very difficult person right now and struggling to find a way to deal with her. I guess we'll all eventually meet someone who creates enormous strife in our lives and it's up to ourselves to ensure our own emotional health. Good luck to you, Leanne!

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    1. I found it really difficult because I do care and I do want to help - but eventually you realize that some people don't want help and they don't want to change - they thrive on being sad and disappointed and angry. I just don't need that in my life and the best thing for me is just to step away.

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  3. Hi Leanne good tips and advice as usual. I worked with a woman who for some reason took a dislike to me. Instead of your situation, it became one of bullying and because she had been there since the beginning of time, even the Managers were scared of her. I ended up leaving a job I enjoyed. It is hard if you are someone who likes to fix problems and help people, to put the boundaries in place. However sometimes for our own sanity we need to and if the other person gets offended so be it. We don't need toxic people in our lives that is for sure. Have a great week! xx

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    1. Drama comes in so many forms doesn't it Sue? People who make our lives difficult don't deserve the space they take up - the trouble is that sometimes you can't avoid getting caught up in the turmoil - it's learning how to ride out the storm without sustaining too much damage - or giving up and walking away.

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  4. Hi, Leanne - Setting limits, establishing boundaries, focusing on solutions and rising above it are all excellent tips. I truly cannot think of anything else to add. I'm sorry that you continue to need to deal with this issue at work. It is much easier to avoid difficult people in retirement! :)

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    1. That's one of the big appealing points for me Donna - living on my own terms and not having to make space for those who don't want to play nice. I'm thinking retirement is going to suit me very well - can't wait to get there!

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  5. I feel for you Leanne. This is a difficult situation and can be very wearing can't it? I must say your tips are spot on and you are fortunate to have your husband's support. It is one of the pure joys for me in my retirement, that I no longer have to deal with such toxic people on a daily basis. #lifethisweek

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    1. I hate that I can't find a way to break through her negativity Deb - I just want to say "look at what you have and be grateful" but she doesn't hear it or see it and that is so sad. But listening to the litany of why things aren't as they should be just wears away at me - life is about making the most of what you have - not bemoaning what you don't have!

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  6. Thank-you!
    You always post the most wonderful words strung together which never disappoints!
    Wishing you a super great week and thanks again for posting these words of wisdom!
    Appreciate you!

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    1. Oh Amy - what a lovely thing to say! Thank you so much - it's always lovely to receive a compliment - it helps me keep on keeping on with my blogging x Enjoy your week too x

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  7. Great points and I agree with you about saving the brain cells! Telling someone you don't do drama sometimes works and sometimes initiates more drama because they think they are not doing drama! I sincerely think some love the drama as it makes them feel alive. The rest of us are exhausted and they are revitalized.

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    1. I don't think that people who thrive on drama really understand the impact it has on the rest of us Haralee - they seem to be able to ride the rollercoaster and come back for more - while I'm just lying there with a cold compress on my forehead!

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  8. Love the quote about boundaries.

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    1. And it's so true though isn't it Liz - we have to make it about our own health sometimes.

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  9. These are SO good, Leanne. I think this is the hardest thing about life because I'm one of those pleaser people. But having someone to hear it and give another perspective is great.
    XOXO
    Jodie
    www.jtouchofstyle.com

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    1. People pleasing can be really pleasant if everyone knows their boundaries Jodie - it's when you come across someone who takes, and then takes some more, that you start to feel like your well is running dry.

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  10. I have a difficult person in my home life (thankfully, no one at work meets that category - right now anyway)who is a relative. I am starting to tap into my support network, something I hadn't even thought of, and already had gotten some insight in the past week. Excellent advice because that person is going to be in my life for many more years. Alana ramblinwitham.blogspot.com

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    1. Family members are the trickiest because we can't change our relationship with them (not like quitting a job) and we can't always step away from them either. It seems to me that the closer the person is to us, the more long term damage gets done!

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  11. Leanne, thank you for this considered and practical approach to conflict with 'those' people at work.

    SSG xxx

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    1. Hi SSG - I just really thought that the article was a great one to be able to tease out a bit and apply to the people a lot of us come into contact with daily.

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  12. Your five suggestions are excellent, Leanne. I hope your work situation is more enjoyable once you apply your approach. Thankfully I don't have any difficult people in my life atm. I do intentionally spend my time with neutral or positive people and steer away from negative people. #lifethisweek

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    1. I do my best to stick with people who are straight shooters and drama free Natalie, but you can't always choose your workmates, or your family and they are often the people who cause us the most stress - unfortunately.

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  13. Such great tips and I love that quote about boundaries! How lucky are you to have professional counsel so close to hand?!

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    1. I'm not sure what I'd have done without a sounding board who I trust and who can offer balanced and sensible advice Sam. He's been a lifesaver for me at times!

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  14. Great tips and ideas. I have been lucky, with the big move abroad I am no longer having to deal with any of the difficult people that were in my life. Out of sight, and out of mind. The ocean is between us, it's amazing.

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    1. I'm not sure that I'm ready to pack up and move overseas just yet Cherie - but the thought is pretty tempting on those really bad days!

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  15. Excellent advice and as I read I kept seeing the word 'boundaries' and hearing it in my head. I used to be the ultimate people pleaser in many aspects of my life until I realised that was making me sick. I wish I had the skills and behaviours of now to deal with some of the difficult people I had on my staff at school all those years ago.

    Your husband sounds like mine, a wise and helpful man! Mine is also a trained counsellor. I do say sometimes "don't be a counsellor, be my husband!'.

    Thanks for linking up for #lifethisweek 2/51. Next week's optional prompt is Best Gift Ever 21.1.19. Denyse

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    1. I say the same thing to my husband sometimes too Denyse - they go into counsellor mode and I tell him I don't want solutions I just want sympathy :)

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  16. Lots of good advice here Leanne. My favourite tool is to energetically disentangle from the other person's drama. I can help them better and set better boundaries once I have my own head clear. And yes knowing the difference between a real crisis and an ongoing drama queen/king pattern makes a huge difference.

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    1. I often have great intentions of not getting sucked into the maelstrom and then before I know it I'm down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland with the Mad Hatter. Stepping back before that happens is the key - but SO difficult!

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  17. Oh yes I've had those problem people in my life. Particularly my work life but also my private life. I stopped seeing as much of someone a few years ago because she really dragged me down with her dramas and I felt as if I was constantly propping her up. It didn't feel like it was a mutual thing so I let it die a quiet death.

    And then my local bestie had another friend she'd started including on our outings - suggesting that (cos we were both single) we'd probably get along. Her friend has mental health issues and was very needy and I just didn't have the headspace myself to get involved. My friend's a counsellor so she didn't mind the drama but there were also elements of this person's behaviour (possibly part of their mental illness) that meant they were deceitful and I ended up having to be honest and tell my own friend that I really didn't want to be invited to stuff this other person was at if it was just a few of us... bigger group things, fine, but I didn't want her to push us into a friendship.

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    1. It's so hard when someone has a genuine need, but due to mental health issues it becomes bigger than Ben Hur and drowns everyone around them. I just don't have the resilience to be constantly bombarded with someone else's pain - real or imagined. I thought it would be a good way to develop those skills by being exposed to it regularly, but it just made me soooo mentally weary and in the end I feel quite resistant to wanting to help - because the other person needs to want to change before any advice or assistance helps. I think creating distance is the only solution in the end - and that's really quite sad.

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  18. Great tips Leanne! And yes I can very much relate. I have had much experience with these kinds of people over all the years I was in the corporate world and even outside that world. These days I'm fortunate in that I am no longer in the corporate world and I also choose my friends more wisely now and keep a wide berth from those that drain my energy and/or affect my mood and stress levels! I'm a lot more self aware now and I know what I need to do to self preserve! #TeamLovinLife

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    1. I'm thinking retirement has a lot going for it Min - you get to be a lot more selective in the people you interact with and the time you spend with them. I think I'd cope better with a difficult person if I only saw them occasionally for a coffee, rather than several times a week for a full day!

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  19. I have had couple difficult people in my life. Rising above and setting boundaries is important. Found you on Bloggers Pit Stop Link Party

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    1. Hi Candy - you're exactly right - we really do need to set our boundaries and reinforce them whenever we notice they're being breached!

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  20. You've hit the nail on the head with these thoughts on boundaries!

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  21. Some great advice, Leanne...easier said than done, but we have to keep trying, or they could get less difficult, but we can't wait for that, so we can try these ideas instead. :)
    Dropped by from #BloggersPitStop today but always glad to be here. :)
    Hope the week ahead treats you kindly. :)

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  22. Loved these tips Leanne, and well said too. Sometimes we do need a bit of embedded strategy to deal with difficult people, and those difficult people may not only be in the workforce but can also be within our extended families too. Sometimes it's all a matter of perception, I guess - one person's difficult nature might seem difficult to me but not to you, for instance. Then there are are distinct personality disorders which we might both pick up on as being the cause of someone else's difficult nature, for instance. I guess ultimately it's within our hands to accept others for who they are, forgive them their transgressions, move on ,and hopefully protect our own mental wellbeing in the process. Not always easy, especially when, if like me, you sometimes begin to question if you are part of the problem! Arghh, minefield! Great post - got me thinking.

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  23. Another great post, Leanne. It can be hard not to get sucked into someone else's negativity. As you pointed out, setting boundaries and taking control of what we can are key. Then you just have to let everything else go. My husband is the one in our relationship who gets emotionally caught up in chaos, and I'm the one talking him down. I guess it's good to have a mix of personalities in a relationship.

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  24. Great tips! We all have "those" people. Energy thieves.

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  25. A great subject Leanne. I find it hard to set boundaries, especially with people I can't get away from. I had a boss who was a complete charmer to everyone, behind the scenes she bullied me constantly. I eventually told the business owner who did not believe me at first but in the end she was sacked and I got her job. On the other hand, there have been times when I have been a griper and I am sure that was not nice for others. I hope I am learning in fact I know I am :)
    This post will be featured on the next Blogger's Pit Stop.
    Thanks for great post content that is a blessing to so many.
    Kathleen

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  26. Leanne, this is such a great topic. I'm fortunate that I don't have these issues anymore but I know many people do. You always have such great insights!

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