“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” ~Eckhart Tolle
It’s morning; you’re in a great mood. You’re relaxed and have plenty of time to practice your morning routine. After a delicious breakfast, you head out to start your day. Then it happens: You encounter a difficult person, and your calm turns to calamity.
We all have encounters with people who prefer to stay miserable, making everything difficult. They exist, and perhaps there was a time in your past when you once where one of those negative people. Perhaps you still can be at times.
As a former miserable person, I know it was my inability to handle my mental and emotional states that kept me oozing all over others. I felt so disconnected from life, living obsessively in my mind, that I truly felt helpless.
Most often that helplessness manifested into continuous critiquing, judging, anger, and sometimes even pure rage. I was unwilling to take full responsibility for my relationship to life. I wanted peace, joy, and harmony, but I was unwilling to do the necessary work to experience them.
Difficult people are demanding. They demand something from the external world in hopes of filling the disconnection and restlessness they feel within. Whether they are demanding our attention, a certain action or reaction, or a particular outcome, the root of their behavior is a demand for something other than what is.
Difficult people haven’t yet learned to take responsibility for their whole selves—mind, body, and spirit. Feeling disconnected and restless gives rise to their need to argue, judge, critique, and tweak everyone around them.
Their inability to handle themselves adds fuel to the fire, which perpetuates their harshness.
Underneath their personality is a feeling of being separate and a desperate plea for help.
We can’t change another and we can’t make someone want to change. The only way we can help is by being true to our self, finding our power within, and being an example of wholeness.
Here are a few practices I’ve found useful, loving, and extremely effective.
1. Be still and ground yourself.
Naturally, when we are confronted with a rude, irritable, or irate person, we tend to avoid them. We think that if we avoid them they will go away, or at least we hope they will. The truth is that, although this may happen, it is much more likely that they won’t until we learn an alternate way of dealing with them.
Negative energy has a force and it can knock us on our butt, usually in the form of us engaging in toxic behavior. If we are not grounded, we may find ourselves arguing, judging, or stomping out of the room.
Making sure we are firmly planted in our body enables us to look the person in the eye and be completely present. It gives us the opportunity to remain calm and pause rather than engage in behavior we may later regret.
2. Look them directly in the eyes.
Darkness, negativity, can’t stand light, so it can’t remain in the light. Looking someone directly in his or her eyes dispels darkness. Your light pierces through the superficial persona to their being.
When I practice this tool one of two things always happens:
- The person walks away or stops talking.
- The conversation takes a more positive direction.
We all want to be seen, from the cashier at Target to our spouse. Taking the time to look at someone offers them the greatest gift we have to offer: connection.
Try it as an experiment and see what happens.
3. Listen to understand.
I find that whenever a difficult person confronts me, I automatically tense up and mentally consider my defense. When I am calm and open-minded, I know that I never have to defend myself, ever.
The most effective way to diffuse a difficult person is to truly listen to what they are trying to say, which means keeping my mouth closed and hearing them all the way through.
Whether or not I agree with them is irrelevant, and I certainly don’t need to let them know what I think. I can listen and get back to them if necessary such as with a spouse, co-worker or friend.
I find the following responses to be most effective:
“Let me get back to you on that.”
“You could be right.”
When a person is being difficult, it is because they are responding to their perceived reality rather than what is going on in the moment. Often times their frustration has very little to do with us.
I find when someone’s reaction seems over the top for the situation that repeating the same response diffuses the situation.
4. Learn when to be silent.
Some people are extremely closed-minded and impossible to talk to, but we need to speak to them. When I find myself in a situation with someone who just can’t hear me in the moment, I don’t force the issue. Trying to get my point across to someone that can’t hear me only escalates the situation. Sometimes the clearest form of communication is silence.
At a later time I can revisit the conversation with the person and communicate what needs to be said. Regardless of the person’s response, I can share my feelings and thoughts and let go of the outcome. Focusing on them responding a certain way only results in two difficult people unable to accept what is.
5. Be honest with yourself.
If we are repeatedly in a situation with someone who is abusive verbally, physically, and/or emotionally, we must stop trying to change him or her. If we find we are practicing a spiritual way of life and someone close to us isn’t changing, it may be time to get honest with our self and find out what is really going on.
The question of whether or not to end a relationship with a difficult person, whether a friendship, work or romantic relationship, can only come from within you.
If you can honestly say you have done what you know to do, have asked for help from a friend or professionally and nothing is changing, then its time to go within for the answer and trust what you find.
On the other side of a difficult person is an opportunity to grow.
No matter what we are presented with in life, we have an opportunity to choose more or less responsibility. Remembering that true responsibility is our ability to respond in the moment.
Of course, this takes practice and is not easy. However, as we take more and more responsibility for our life, circumstances and people lose their power over us. We learn to choose our responses moment by moment, no longer being dragged around by emotions, thoughts, or circumstances created by another or our self.