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How to Cope with Difficult People with Less Stress

With some people, more sophisticated strategies and tactics are required to spare you the unwanted and avoidable stress of dealing with them. The following sections outline what you need to do.

Believe it or not, some people can be ill-mannered, grouchy, and nasty and appear to lack many basic interpersonal skills. They lose very little sleep over giving you a hard time. Sooner or later — and probably sooner — you will run into one of these types.

Stay calm

When you’re seething and little puffs of smoke are coming out of your ears, the chances of effectively reacting to a difficult situation are not the best. Your first strategy should be to get yourself into a more composed, relaxed state.

By relaxing your body at the first hint of conflict, you give yourself the best chance of responding well in a difficult situation. Some simple breathing exercises should do the trick. Some Rapid Relaxation exercises in these situations helps. The following is what you can do to stay calm:

Inhale deeply through your nostrils, and at the same time press together your thumb and forefinger on one hand. Hold that breath for four or five seconds and then exhale fully through your slightly parted lips. As you’re exhaling, let go of the tension in your hand and let a wave of soothing relaxation spread from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Repeat one or two times until your body feels more relaxed.

Focus on the issue

When you’re expressing a grievance, problem, or dissatisfaction, too often you express your feelings in global, vague ways. Consider the following statements:

“Why can’t you be nicer to me?”
“You’re never there when I need you!”
“You’re inconsiderate!”
“I wish you weren’t so lazy!”
“I wish you would try harder to be a better friend!”
“I need more respect from you!”

It may be quite clear to you what you mean; it may be less clear to the person you are talking to. The typical response uttered by the other person is, “What are you talking about?” Usually anger and more than a smidgeon of defensiveness are attached.

Avoid kitchen-sinking

Kitchen-sinking describes what you do when you lump a bunch of grievances together and throw them at the other person all at once. For example, a parent may express his or her anger to a child in the following way:

“You can’t do anything right! You never take the garbage out, clean your room, get up on time, or finish your homework!”

This grievance may or may not be accurate, but expressing these complaints all at once usually ensures that the reaction is defensive and probably hostile.

If you have more than one beef, grievance, or issue, express them one at a time. And use the “I statement” approach rather than blaming and putting the other person on the defensive.

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