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Dealing with Difficult People: 17 Tips to Keep You Sane

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Switch Perspectives continued...

It’s no surprise, then, that you may be your difficult person’s difficult person. It could be a matter of opposite outlooks: Super-friendly people, for instance, may be at odds with all-business-all-the-time types — and vice versa. The same goes for laid-back folks and workaholics. Understanding those basic differences gives you a glimpse of someone else’s viewpoint, which may help temper your irritation.

If you’re having trouble feeling empathetic toward someone you care about, try analyzing her behavior. This strategy worked for Alicyn Mindel, a mom of two from Providence who struggled for years with her friend “Dina,” who was a terrible listener. “Whenever I started talking about my personal problems, she would turn the conversation around to herself. Then, one day, a different pal was talking about attention-starved people, and I realized Dina fit the description perfectly. From that moment on, every time Dina and I got together, I gave her a big, long hug. The transformation was amazing: She became warmer, more open, and over time, she started asking me about my life — without segueing into her own issues.”

Choose Your Approach

Armed with your insights, you now need to decide whether to confront the perpetrator. As a general rule, you should talk things over only with someone you’re close to, whether that’s your husband or a longtime colleague. It’s probably not worth stirring the pot if you only see him once a month, like an in-law or acquaintance on the PTA board. (For people you don’t know at all — say, the salesclerk who’s more interested in her cell phone chat than in helping you — you’ll need a different strategy.)

You can also skip the conversation if you know it will fall on deaf ears, or if you suspect it will be taken the wrong way. That was the case with Mindel: “I never addressed the issue with Dina because she tends to be defensive. I knew I’d have a better chance of fixing our friendship by changing my actions.” A good litmus test for determining whether or not to start a conversation is first to imagine the worst-case scenario. Then ask yourself, Will our relationship survive? If you’re confident it will, set up a time to talk. If it won’t, try a tactic that’s less confrontational.

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