We work with, play with, service‚ or are related to difficult people. Difficult people yell, explode, and try to intimidate you. If your life is free from these hostile and manipulative people, read no further. However, the probability of encountering these people is extremely likely. Although the difficult people make up 3-5% of the population, they create over 50% of the everyday problems!
Certainly, we all can be miserable, hostile and basically pretty unpleasant at times. But difficult people are this way all the time. A brief encounter with a difficult person leaves one angry, frustrated, and demoralized. These people go right for the jugular vein. The negative behavioral patterns they learned are used strategically to wear you down. Their only objective is to win regardless of who stands in their way.
Difficult people have learned to be this way because it is effective for them. Their hostile and negative behavior serves them well. Their arsenal of aggressive behavior catches their prey off guard and then renders them helpless. Consequently, after a confrontation with these people, it's not unusual to feel mentally abused and frustrated.
The first step in coping with a difficult person is to understand why they behave this way. Generally, these people are unhappy, insecure, and have low self-esteem. Early in life they learned to get their needs met in maladaptive ways, such as, being the bully. Although there are different types of difficult people - some are overly aggressive, while others may be passive-aggressive - their dynamics are similar. Like all human beings, all they want is to be loved and accepted. Unfortunately, they have learned inappropriate ways to achieve this.
These behavioral patterns are deeply ingrained in the personality of the difficult person. The overly-aggressive difficult person (one who bullies, explodes, screams, etc.) uses their aggressive posture as a defense mechanism. Because of their weak and fragile ego, they need to protect themselves. Their best defense is a strong offense-aggression. Therefore, they feel in control of themselves only in a situation that allows them to feel powerful. But it doesn't stop there. Like all weak people, their insatiable need to feel secure makes it necessary for them to win - and to win at any cost.
The second step in trying to cope with difficult people is to distinguish between a person who is having a bad day and one who is a difficult person. Keep in mind that difficult people make up a small percentage of the population. However, having an encounter with one makes that percentage appear larger.
The first way to help distinguish between the two is to reflect on the history of the person. In other words, "Is the behavioral pattern normal or unusual for this person?" The difficult person is this way all of the time. A non-difficult person who is having a bad day is just reacting to a particular situation.
Another approach in distinguishing between the difficult person and a person having a bad day is found in the way you communicate with them. Although hostile at first, the non-difficult person will eventually respond to your effective communication and rational reasoning. The difficult person will be relentless in their pursuit to beat you and win.
To help you maintain composure when confronted by difficult people, it is important to keep three things in mind. First, you can never change the difficult person. The old saying that a leopard never loses it's spots holds true with the difficult person. These people need to be this way and for them to change is to expose their vulnerability.
When confronted by difficult people, remain focused and be firm. Like spiders spinning their webs, they are trying to trap you. By bombarding your ego with insults and intimidation, they want you to lose control and fight with them. When this happens, they "got-ya." Listen to them, maintain direct eye contact and when appropriate speak in a clear firm voice. It is easy to become wrapped up in the heated situation, so remain detached and distant from these people. Doing so helps keep you from becoming entangled in their web of misery and hostility.
The final step that will help you cope with the difficult person is to not personalize the problem. Certainly, this is easier said than done. Between wishing they would be different, thinking you can really help them, and trying to survive their emotional assault, it's difficult not to internalize the problem. Yet, in order to cope effectively with these people, it is crucial to maintain your self-esteem.
Some of the following thoughts might be helpful in your attempt to depersonalize the situation:
"This is their problem, I will not make it mine."
"I'm not going to allow anyone to dictate my behavior."
"They want me to fight with them, I won't allow it."
"Their need to be difficult is a cover-up for their own inadequacies."
"I have the choice to play or not this game."
The bottom line is that trying to cope with difficult people is never easy and is quite frustrating. Trust the fact that all people have trouble dealing with difficult people. Although it may not seem possible to deal with difficult people effectively, remain confident in your abilities and coping skills. And keep in mind that engaging in an argument with these people is a no-win proposition. In fact, the only way for you to win is to elect not to play.
Keith Levick, Ph.D., is a health psychologist who has been in practice for 20 years and is an Adjunct Professor at Central Michigan University. He is the founder and director of the Center for Childhood Weight Management, a unique treatment program designed for overweight children, located in Farmington Hills, MI, and in YMCA's throughout Michigan. Dr. Levick is also the President of Goren and Associates, a training and development company. Some of their clients include GM, DaimlerChrysler, Detroit Diesel, AT&T and other Fortune 500 companies. Dr. Levick serves on the Executive Board for the American Heart Association and is well published in the area of health and wellness.
Dr. Levick is author of a new book entitled, Why Is My Child So Overweight? A Parent's Guide to a Fit & Healthy Child, designed to help the entire family become more aware of eating behaviors and help create lifestyle changes. This book is available through http://selfhelpbooks.com.