Last week I talked about the reasons that some people are difficult and the impact they have on us. Today I’ll discuss strategies to interact and manage “difficult personality types.” As I mentioned last week, it’s important that you take responsibility for your part of the interaction. Many of the spouses I work with justify their inappropriate reaction based on their partner’s difficult behavior. Remember two wrongs don’t make a right. Sometimes detaching or taking a timeout before responding is the best approach. The time away may help you with gaining perspective, assessing the situation, and finding a reasonable resolution.
When interacting with a difficult person it is best to consider the other person’s feelings and if possible validate their emotions. Validation requires acknowledgement and acceptance of their feelings, but does not require agreement. Be aware of your nonverbal behaviors (it’s not always what you say, but how you say it) and attempt to communicate assertively while de-escalating their negative emotion. Active listening and allowing them a time-limited vent can be helpful. And remember that judgement and criticism will only fuel the fire.
Remind yourself that, “it’s not about you,” since often others’ extreme negativity is only slightly related to anything you might have done. It may be helpful to move to problem solving mode and ask what can be done to help. Often difficult people feel powerless and believe their situation is hopeless which is why offering a positive solution may work. Asking questions about their situation can communicate concern and empathy which also can diffuse their anger.
Remain calm no matter what and maintain your composure without giving in to unreasonable demands. For example, “I get your frustration with this situation and I’d like to try to help find a reasonable solution.” Remember, responding takes out the emotion whereas reacting adds more emotion. Lastly, discern what you can fix, what you can tolerate, and what you need to walk away from.