How to deal with difficult people

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Difficult people can be bad for your health if you let them stress you out. Mary Bolster, editor of Natural Health Magazine, has some excellent reminders to help you deal with the difficult people in your life." "

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  • Mary Bolster

    Mary Bolster Editor-in-Chief, Natural Health Currently editor-in-chief at Natural Health, Mary Bolster started her career at TravelAge West, a travel trade magazine in San Francisco. more about this expert »

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How to deal with difficult people

You've encountered them. Difficult people who annoy you and cause your blood pressure to rise. The snippy salesperson who seems to be willfully ignoring you. The grouchy, strident, demanding boss. Or the co-worker who's 'done it again' and gotten you to do their work. While your natural inclination may be to try to clear the air, make light of the situation and find a peaceful, common ground, this may not be the best way in dealing with diffulcult people whose behavior annoys you.

  • The best approach in all these situations is to try to control your reactions. There will always be obnoxious people and difficult situations that you can't control, but you can always learn to control the way that you react.
  • Don't try to find that peaceful, common ground as it will only encourage difficult people to continue the behavior that annoys you. Instead, remain neutral and protect your ground. Try to contain your anger. State facts, and be assertive without being aggressive. And remember that the difficult, annoying behavior is about them, not you. Don't take it personally. Really. Don't take it personally.
  • When faced with dealing with situations that cause our blood pressure to rise, we often react in one of two ways --- getting angry and upset, or feeling and acting hurt.
  • Angry and upset? It frequently leads us to think that we must find a way to get their behavior to change. You need to let that thought go. It's never going to happen. You can only control and change your own behavior.
  • Acting hurt? Counterproductive. Difficult people will instinctively take advantage of your need for approval. In this situation, try to visualize yourself as indifferent. You don't need their approval; nor do you need to get angry.
  • Keep in mind that difficult people whose annoying behavior 'gets a rise' out of you may, in fact, be doing just that—causing your blood pressure to actually rise. (And causing other physical symptoms like elevated heart rate, rapid, shallow breathing and the production of damaging hormones.) If you believe that every interaction with an annoying boss or co-worker will inevitably degenerate into a confrontation, this added stress can lead to other counter-productive behavior like overeating or not sleeping as you worry about tomorrow's meeting.
  • When dealing with difficult people, getting to a calm, centered space inside yourself ratchets everything down, and helps you get control of your emotional reactions. And when you change 'inside', it can affect a change 'outside' as annoying people won't be able to have such a big effect on you, and you're better able to keep them from getting under your skin.
Transcript

STACEY: I'm Stacey Tisdale for howdini. Okay the sales clerk is snippy, the boss is grouchy, that irritating co-worker has done it again. How do you react? It's an important question for your mental health and for some answers we're joined by Mary Bolster, editor in chief of Natural Health magazine. Mary good to have you with us. Now someone that I might find annoying, you might not find annoying. How are you defining difficult people?

MARY: Well you came up with some pretty good examples in the beginning there. You know it's like an indifferent sales person: you go in there, you try to find something and nobody will help you and they seem to be willfully ignoring you. Strident, demanding bosses: I think most people find them difficult. And then you mentioned this, the co-worker. The person who just constantly get you to do his or her work. That is so annoying. But it's really anybody that gets your blood pressure higher than it should be.

STACEY: All of this reminds me of a difficult boss that I had; I always tried to clear the air, make things easy for us. But you say we shouldn't necessarily try to find common ground with these people.

MARY: I would say that's probably the wrong thing to do and may encourage the rude person's difficult behavior. Really what you want to do is remain neutral. You don't really want to create peacful ground between yourself and the negative person. You want to protect your own ground. So you don't want to get your emotions higher than they should be. You really want to stay neutral. So if for instance you normally react with anger, you want to kind of contain that anger. You want to remind yourself that this person's difficult behavior is about them, not about you. You don't take it personally and you just state the facts. You're assertive without being aggressive and that's how you get what you want from that person.

STACEY: How should we handle our emotions when we're faced with these difficult situations?

MARY: There's a couple of ways that people typically respond to difficult people. One way is to get obsessed, like oh my gosh, this person shouldn't be difficult and I'm going to change her. Well, hello, that is never going to happen. You just want to say--you've let go of that. Acknowledge that there are always going to be obnoxious, difficult people. There's two instances where you really want to kind of take stock. Another is if you act hurt when someone is difficult with you because difficult people take advantage of that kind of behavior. They think you want approval and so they'll really just kind of be--they'll really milk that need for approval. So you, again, you want to sort of just visualize yourself being indifferent towards this person. That, that you're neither--that you don't either need their approval. You don't need to angry at them, just be neutral with them and that's where you're more likely to get what you need from these people.

STACEY: It sounds like the general message is that all you can control is the way that you react to these things. You can't control outside circumstances, you can't control the people.

MARY: That's right. If you can change what's inside, the outside won't have as big an effect on you.

STACEY: You make the point that difficult people can indeed affect your health. Explain how that really happens.

MARY: Well, there's two things that happen when you're around difficult people: your blood pressure can go up and you get really high levels of stress. You know any time you know you're going to have to deal with a difficult person, say a difficult boss, you're thinking oh jeez I do not want to do this. You might overeat, you might stay up late at night thinking about the confrontation you're going to have because everything feels like a confrontation. So again, if you can bring yourself, if you can visualize it so you can get there. If you can get to that calm, centered space in yourself, every encounter with the difficult people is going to be ratcheded down so that you can remain calm. So you don't feel like your heart rate is going up, that your breathing is getting shallow and that you're sort of stressing out because stress, the cortisol hormone that gets activated when you're stressed, is so bad for your health.

STACEY: And stress is so bad for us on so many levels.

MARY: Right. Yeah, so that's one thing you constantly want to bring yourself back to. Calm center. Take your deep breath and say I'm not going to let this person get under my skin.

STACEY: Great advice, Mary Bolster, editor in chief of Natural Health magazine. Thank you so much for joining us.


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