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Dealing with Difficult People

Photo: Stock Photo

Can you recall the last time you had to deal with a negative or difficult person
? Or the last time someone said something with the intention of hurting you? How
did you handle it? What was the result? What can you do in the future to get th
rough these situations with peace and grace?

No matter where we go, we will face people who are negative, people who oppose o
ur ideas, people who piss us off or people who simply do not like us. There are
6.4 billion people out there and conflict is a fact of life. This fact isn t the c
ause of conflict but it is the trigger to our emotions and our emotions are what
drive us back to our most basic survival instinct; react and attack back to def
end ourselves.
In these instinctual moments, we may lose track of our higher selves and become
the human animal with an urge to protect ourselves when attacked. This too is na
tural. However, we are the only animal blessed with intelligence and having the
ability to control our responses. So how can we do that?
I regularly get asked How do you deal with the negative comments about your artic
les? They are brutal. I don t think I could handle them. My answer is simple, I don t
let it bother me to begin with. It wasn t always this simple, and took me some time
before overcoming this natural urgency to protect myself and attack back.
I know it s not easy, if it was easy, there wouldn t be difficult or negative people
to begin with.
Why Bother Controlling Our Responses?
1. Hurting Ourselves
One of my favorite sayings is Holding a grudge against someone is like drinking p
oison and expecting the other person to die. The only person we hurt is ourselves
. When we react to negativity, we are disturbing our inner space and mentally cr
eating pain within ourselves.
2. It s Not About You, It s About Them
I ve learned that when people initiate negativity, it is a reflection of their inn
er state expressed externally and you just happen to be in front of that express
ion. It s not personal, so why do we take it personally? In short: Because our ego
likes problems and conflict. People are often so bored and unhappy with their o
wn lives that they want to take others down with them.
There have been many times when a random person has left a purposefully hurtful
comment on TSN, and regularly checked back to see if anyone else responded to th
eir comment, waiting eagerly to respond with more negativity.
3. Battle of the Ego
When we respond impulsively, it is a natural and honest response. However, is it
the smart thing to do? What can be resolved by doing so? The answer: Nothing. I
t does however feed our ego s need for conflict.
Have you noticed that when we fight back, it feels really satisfying in our head
s? But it doesn t feel very good in our soul? Our stomach becomes tight, and we st
art having violent thoughts?
When we do respond irrationally, it turns the conversation from a one-sided nega
tive expression into a battle of two egos. It becomes an unnecessary and unprodu
ctive battle for Who is Right?
4. Anger Feeds Anger. Negativity Feeds Negativity.
Rarely can any good come out of reacting against someone who is in a negative st
ate. It will only trigger anger and an additional reactive response from that pe
rson. If we do respond impulsively, we ll have invested energy in the defending of
ourselves and we ll feel more psychologically compelled to defend ourselves going
Have you noticed that the angrier our thoughts become, the angrier we become? It s
a negative downward spiral.
5. Waste of Energy
Where attention goes, energy flows. What we focus on tends to expand itself. Sin
ce we can only focus on one thing at a time, energy spent on negativity is energ
y that could have been spent on our personal wellbeing.
6. Negativity Spreads
I ve found that once I allow negativity in one area of my life, it starts to subtl
y bleed into other areas as well. When we are in a negative state or holding a g
rudge against someone, we don t feel very good. We carry that energy with us as we
go about our day. When we don t feel very good, we lose sight of clarity and may
react unconsciously to matters in other areas of our lives, unnecessarily.
7. Freedom of Speech
People are as entitled to their opinions as you are. Allow them to express how t
hey feel and let it be. Remember that it s all relative and a matter of perspectiv
e. What we consider positive can be perceived by another as negative. When we re
act, it becomes me-versus-you, who is right?
Some people may have a less than eloquent way of expressing themselves it may ev
en be offensive, but they are still entitled to do so. They have the right to ex
press their own opinions and we have the right and will power to choose our resp
onses. We can choose peace or we can choose conflict.
15 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People
While I ve had a lot of practice dealing with negativity, it is something I find m
yself having to actively work on. When I m caught off guard and end up resorting t
o a defensive position, the result rarely turns out well.
The point is, we are humans after all, and we have emotions and egos. However, b
y keeping our egos in-check and inserting emotional intelligence, we ll not only b
e doing a favor for our health and mental space, but we ll also have intercepted a
situation that would have gone bad, unnecessarily.
Photo by Kara Pecknold
Here are some tips for dealing with a difficult person or negative message:
1. Forgive
What would the Dali Lama do if he was in the situation? He would most likely for
give. Remember that at our very core, we are good, but our judgment becomes clou
ded and we may say hurtful things. Ask yourself, What is it about this situation
or person that I can seek to understand and forgive?
2. Wait it Out
Sometimes I feel compelled to instantly send an email defending myself. I ve learn
ed that emotionally charged emails never get us the result we want; they only ad
d oil to the fire. What is helpful is inserting time to allow ourselves to cool
off. You can write the emotionally charged email to the person, just don t send it
off. Wait until you ve cooled off before responding, if you choose to respond at
3. Does it really matter if I am right?
Sometimes we respond with the intention of defending the side we took a position
on. If you find yourself arguing for the sake of being right, ask Does it matter
if I am right? If yes, then ask Why do I need to be right? What will I gain?
4. Don t Respond
Many times when a person initiates a negative message or difficult attitude, the
y are trying to trigger a response from you. When we react, we are actually givi
ng them what they want. Let s stop the cycle of negative snowballing and sell them
short on what they re looking for; don t bother responding.
5. Stop Talking About It
When you have a problem or a conflict in your life, don t you find that people jus
t love talking about it? We end up repeating the story to anyone who ll listen. We
express how much we hate the situation or person. What we fail to recognize in
these moments is that the more we talk about something, the more of that thing w
e ll notice.
Example, the more we talk about how much we dislike a person, the more hate we w
ill feel towards them and the more we ll notice things about them that we dislike.
Stop giving it energy, stop thinking about it, and stop talking about it. Do yo
ur best to not repeat the story to others.
6. Be In Their Shoes
As cliché as this may sound, we tend to forget that we become blind-sided in the s
ituation. Try putting yourself in their position and consider how you may have h
urt their feelings. This understanding will give you a new perspective on becomi
ng rational again, and may help you develop compassion for the other person.
7. Look for the Lessons
No situation is ever lost if we can take away from it some lessons that will hel
p us grow and become a better person. Regardless of how negative a scenario may
appear, there is always a hidden gift in the form of a lesson. Find the lesson(s
8. Choose to Eliminate Negative People In Your Life
Negative people can be a source of energy drain. And deeply unhappy people will
want to bring you down emotionally, so that they are not down there alone. Be aw
are of this. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and do not mind the ene
rgy drain, I recommend that you cut them off from your life.
Cut them out by avoiding interactions with them as much as possible. Remember th
at you have the choice to commit to being surrounded by people who have the qual
ities you admire: optimistic, positive, peaceful and encouraging people. As Kath
y Sierra said, Be around the change you want to see in the world.
9. Become the Observer
When we practice becoming the observer of our feelings, our thoughts and the sit
uation, we separate ourselves away from the emotions. Instead of identifying wit
h the emotions and letting them consume us, we observe them with clarity and det
achment. When you find yourself identifying with emotions and thoughts, bring yo
ur focus on your breathe.

10. Go for a Run

or a swim, or some other workout. Physical exercise can help to release the nega
tive and excess energy in us. Use exercise as a tool to clear your mind and rele
ase built up negative energy.
11. Worst Case Scenario
Ask yourself two questions,
If I do not respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?
If I do respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?
Answering these questions often adds perspectives to the situation, and you ll rea
lize that nothing good will come out of reacting. Your energy will be wasted, an
d your inner space disturbed.
12. Avoid Heated Discussions
When we re emotionally charged, we are so much in our heads that we argue out of a
n impulse to be right, to defend ourselves, for the sake of our egos. Rationalit
y and resolution can rarely arise out of these discussions. If a discussion is n
ecessary, wait until everyone has cooled off before diving into one.
13. Most Important
List out things in your life most important to you. Then ask yourself, Will a rea
ction to this person contribute to the things that matter most to me?
14. Pour Honey
This doesn t always work, but sometimes catches people off guard when they re trying
to Pour Poison on you. Compliment the other person for something they did well, t
ell them you ve learned something new through interacting with them, and maybe off
er to become friends. Remember to be genuine. You might have to dig deep to find
something that you appreciate about this person.
15. Express It
Take out some scrap paper and dump all the random and negative thoughts out of y
ou by writing freely without editing. Continue to do so until you have nothing e
lse to say. Now, roll the paper up into a ball, close your eyes and visualize th
at all the negative energy is now inside that paper ball. Toss the paper ball in
the trash. Let it go!