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Dealing with Difficult People: 17 Tips to Keep You Sane

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Turn the Spotlight on You

“You must change how you react to people before you can change how you interact with them,” says Rick Kirschner, N.D., coauthor of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand. That requires some self-examination.

People who irritate us usually have something to show us about ourselves. “Ask yourself: How is this person holding up the mirror to me?” suggests Sandra Crowe, author of Since Strangling Isn’t an Option. For example, being around my chronically late friend reminds me how quick-tempered and impatient I can be — not my favorite traits. Reminding myself of this may keep me from bouncing off the walls when I find myself waiting for her yet again.

If it’s a good friend or intimate, think, too, about your own behavior in the relationship. Have you contributed to the strain by saying yes instead of no too many times? Did you neglect to signal early on that something was bothering you? “If you don’t look at your own actions, you end up making the other person 100 percent of the problem,” explains Susan Fee, author of Dealing with Difficult People: 83 Ways to Stay Calm, Composed, and in Control. That also puts the solution squarely in her hands — and out of yours.

Delving into the root cause of your frustration can turn up problem-solving insights. Fee provides an example from her own life: “When I first got married, my mother-in-law drove me crazy. She was always hovering and intrusive. But after asking myself again and again why she bothered me so much, I realized what was going on: Her behavior was foreign to me because I never knew what it was like to be mothered — when I was 12, my mom had a debilitating stroke. It became clear that this was just my mother-in-law’s way of showing her love for me. Once I understood that, our relationship improved.”

Switch Perspectives

“Most of the time, difficult people just want something different than we do,” says Ronna Lichtenberg, author of Work Would Be Great If It Weren’t for the People. “Or they handle things differently.”

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