Difficult People 101, Part 3: 21 Practical Tips for the DP

Wisdom to help you face difficult people

Posted Jul 10, 2012

July 10, 2012

Part of a multi-part series on difficult people and situations. 

Difficult People part 1:  The DP Challenge 
Difficult People part 2:  The Eightfold Path of Dealing with Difficult People
DP part 3:  21 practical tips for dealing with difficult people
DP part 4:  Coping with difficult people
DP part 5:  Road Rage to Road Sage

“The difference between school and life?  In school, you’re given a lesson and then given a test.  In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”  Tom Bodett, quoted in Arlene Uhl’s book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coping with Difficult People.

Coping with difficult people and situations largely means coping with the feelings that difficult people bring up in us – anger, insecurity, disappointment, and confusion, for example.  Everyone is ultimately responsible for their own emotions.  Clearly, therapy and support from friends can help, as well as relaxation and spiritual practices (such as lovingkindness, yoga, and prayer).  We also need tools to help us cope with the difficult situation.  I outlined an “Eightfold Path of Coping with the Difficult Person” in Part 2.  This chapter offers a grab bag of tips and pointers. 

Rather than outline specific methods to deal with specific character types, I think it’s better to cultivate the right attitudes, understandings, supports, and perspectives – in other words, wisdom – to cope with life’s difficulties and difficult people in general.  Please feel free to add your own wisdom in the comments section online!

  1. Commit to CQI (Continuous Quality Improvement)
  2. Listen, support, reflect, and blend with the concerns and critiques of others.  This requires humility and patience, good virtues to cultivate.
  3. Listen to people venting, without thinking that you have to do anything or “solve” their problem.
  4. Stick to the issues, and avoid getting personal.
  5. However, if you notice a pattern of difficult behavior, you may need to draw attention to it; better still, keep your cool and “strike while the iron is cold”.  People act out to get attention – give them some, then move on.
  6. “Strive to understand, not simply to be understood.”
  7. Get support when you need it, including therapy, friends, mentors and enjoyable activities.  Everyone is responsible for their own emotions.
  8. Cultivate positive, non-violent communication (“5 strokes before a poke”, expressing sincere fondness and admiration; avoid contempt, black-and-white “blame games”, hatred, bitterness, hostility and grudges).
  9. Learn how to be appropriately assertive.
  10. Cultivate lovingkindness, forgiveness, compassion and patience.  Practice letting go, little by little, of hurts, anger, bitterness, grudges and resentment.
  11. Cultivate knowledge (of ideas and people).
  12. Cultivate the team.
  13. Identify problems, and work for solutions.
  14. Be good to yourself and others.
  15. Be flexible and aware of your strengths, weaknesses and best and worst defense mechanisms.
  16. Have a sense of humor and learn to enjoy or at least tolerate the antics and foibles of yourself and others.
  17. Defuse, deflect, and be aware of jealousy, resentment, and narcissism.
  18. Strive to move from conflict and competition to collaboration and cooperation; look for shared purposes and ideals.
  19. Strive to see the bigger picture and the long term.
  20. “You can’t cover the earth with leather; but you can wear shoes.”  (Shantideva, paraphrased)
  21. “Cultivate an internal attitude when the externals are lacking” (the I Ching).

Again from Arlene Uhl:  “In the school of life, difficult people make up a large part of the faculty, so we all have ample opportunities to be attentive students.  Among our courses, Self-control, Compassion, Constructive Conflict, Healing, and Forgiveness.”  I would add Acceptance to this list.  As the Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.” 

In other words, meeting the DP challenge is an opportunity to understand yourself, another person, the difficult situation, and life better.  The Difficult Person is often difficult because they are, quite simply, a different person than you.  Learn about that difference. 

Sometimes you have to “turn the other cheek”, and realize that “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”.  Wisdom has evolved because life is difficult, challenging and prone to create conflict.

Use the DP challenge to deepen yourself, improve your defense mechanisms, and grow in wisdom.

©  2012 Ravi Chandra, M.D. All rights reserved.  

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