Five Ways to Deal with Difficult People…

The guy who never cleans up after himself.  The girl who unloads all her emotional issues on you every time your eyes meet.  The aggressive person around whom everything is magically your fault.  The roommate who, without prior warning, decides that they’re going to have their significant other in your bedroom five nights in a row.

Newsflash: people are difficult.  But what you might not know is there’s actually ways that you can be as cool as a clownfish while everyone around you is…not.  If you want a full meal-deal of teaching on this subject, I highly recommend Danny Silk’s Define the Relationship series, but for those of you just looking for a few morsels, here’s five of the best points on relationship/conflict advice that I’ve gotten:

Picture created by Jan Tik under Creative Commons license
Picture created by Jan Tik under Creative Commons license

1.  Never try to change the other person.

Instead, boil a conflict down to needs.  What is it that you need?  What is it that the other person needs?  Often this is a feeling, not a physical object.  Nobody has the ability to control you, so saying “I need you to stop stealing my food” isn’t necessarily helpful.  Something more like “I feel annoyed when I find the turkey meals I make for Thanksgiving disappear from the fridge, and I need to feel like I can come home and be able to feed my family” helps put the ball in the other person’s court (hopefully that particular example never happens).  You need to be able to trust that another person actually KNOWS how to help fill your needs.  You may also find that you can actually help serve their needs without them doing what it is that irks you.

2.  Never accuse the other person.

“YOU DON’T LOVE ME!”  Really?  I didn’t know you had a VIP pass to my thought life….Instead of telling another person about themselves, ask questions.  “Were you trying to make me feel isolated when you ignored my calls for a week?”  When you give someone some input, they will ALWAYS respond better.

3.  Ask “What are you going to DO?”

A person can rant and rave for hours about how bad their student organizations are, how evil their boss is, or how blind their hairdresser is (probably should find a new one in that case).  Your job is not actually to tell them what to do.  Instead, ask them what THEY are going to do.  It really simplifies things, because rarely do they answer “I’m going to rant at you for another few hours.”  If you can continually guide them to DOING something, it will really help with allowing them to self-manage, as well as keep you from having to hide in a closet every time you see them.

4.  Use the Hero Sandwich.

People are like bank accounts – you should probably make a deposit before you make a withdrawal.  So if you need to tell someone something that’s been bothering you about them, sandwich it between good things you have to say about them.  “You’re awesome, don’t do that ever again, you’re awesome.”

5.  Have self-respect and boundaries.

If you don’t have these things, you’ll always have to have respectful people around you because you have no boundaries with people, and you’ll have to surround yourself with people who never ask you to do anything because you don’t know how to say “no”.  It’s NOT a matter of how patient you can be around other people who are doing you wrong.

Hope these have been helpful.  If you’ve got any favorite tips, please comment below!

Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man without restraint over his spirit.

Proverbs 25:28


2 thoughts on “Five Ways to Deal with Difficult People…

  1. Good thoughtful reflections dealing with a subject that none of us has the luxury of ever saying ‘I have no experience in that particular subject matter’.
    Regarding your 3rd point in asking people the question :’What are you going to do’, may I offer a comment :
    I believe it was Todd White who also stated the importance of asking that question in similar circumstances, except it is God doing the asking, and we do the answering.
    He imagines God as somehow leaning forward in His heavenly throne, exuding an air of delightful expectancy and infinite love, as though our response was the only thing occupying His attention at the moment.
    To me this is a beautiful picture of a God who, ”having given us everything we need for life and godliness, ‘ ( 2 Peter 1) now awaits to see what we will do with what He has so graciously entrusted us with.
    It affirms once again that the gospel is a gospel of personal responsibility, and that no matter what intractable situation or difficult person we are dealing with, we can always pursue and choose those things that make for peace, for healing, and for life.
    ‘Doing life ‘ is so much more fun and becomes such an amazing adventure, isn’t it, when it comes out of a personal relationship with Jesus, whose life and whose teaching pretty much sums up everything we need to know about the subject.
    Thank-you for allowing me to share a few thoughts that were stirred as I reflected on your excellent article.

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