Blamers, complainers, and bullies, oh my! The Savvy Psychologist offers 4 tips for dealing with difficult people, and 5 more for taking care of yourself after a close encounter with the difficult kind. Plus: does bedwetting predict psychopathy? Find out in our new Savvy Listener Mail segment!
Difficult people are like bedbugs: they’re unfortunately common, hard to get rid of, and can make your life a nightmare. Many thanks to Jill Nicely, of Overland Park, KS, for officially requesting this podcast--which is applicable to every one of us..
Rather than covering difficult people type-by-type—like Debbie Downers, passive-aggressives, show-offs, those who cling like a bad case of static, and more—I’ve streamlined different strategies for deadling with all types, and separated them into four core tactics.
So when leaving a horse’s head in the bed isn’t an option, try one of these four things: Approach, Confront, Acquiesce, or Avoid.
Strategy 1: Approach
This is how your best, most generous, and caring self would handle this person. Indeed, when attempting the approach method, your mantra should be “opposite action.” When you want to plug your ears and run, instead take a deep breath, listen, and offer genuine kindness.
Approach can work with blamers, showoffs, micromanagers—basically, anyone whose ridiculousness stems from insecurity. When they, for once, feel heard, seen, and appreciated, they often retract their claws.
But be warned: approach doesn’t usually work for complainers or clingers. For complainers, lending them an ear only provides a soapbox, while clingers magically intensify their stickiness when they find a sympathetic ear.
Strategy 2: Confront
Many difficult people have no idea that they leave a trail of offended eye-rolls in their wake. So “confront” is a bit of a misnomer here—perhaps the tip should be “offer feedback.” And rest assured, my fellow conflict-shy brethren: “confront” never involves getting angry.
Instead, it requires disclosure of the difficult person’s effect on you. You don’t have to get mad; just give them some information and, hopefully, they’ll take it from there.
Reframing with gentle humor can be a great way to package your message, if it fits your style. For example, complainers can be gently dealt with using the phrase, "Ah, our first world problems.” Or, “Hey, if that’s the worst thing that happens today, you’re doing all right!” Then, change the subject.
Another method is giving more direct feedback. For clingers, try the classic, “When you…I feel…” For example, “I should probably let you know that when you text me every half hour in all caps asking WHERE ARE YOU?, I feel smothered, and it makes me not want to answer you.”
Likewise, for micromanagers, you could say, “I can tell this birthday party is really important to you, and when you rearrange everything I’ve set up, it makes me feel redundant. How can we do this better together?”