Throughout life, we have to deal with people who push our buttons. Whether that someone is a stubborn coworker, an unhappy customer, or a pushy family member, some people strike our last nerve and can bring out the worst in us, draining our energy and resilience.
The simplest way to deal with difficult people is to disengage and walk away. But that’s not always an option. So, what do you do?
The answer isn’t complicated, but it takes some practice. When you’re dealing with a difficult person and struggling to keep your cool, here are four ways to regain balance and handle the situation with calm:
1. Stick to the facts and know your limits. It is easy to react emotionally when dealing with a difficult person, but this does little more than inflame an already tough situation. Emotion control—the ability to stay calm under pressure—is a pillar of resilience. If, for example, you’re dealing with a challenging customer or coworker, an outburst of anger or anxiety sucks up your energy and problem-solving power, making a stressful event even more stressful. Instead, start by calmly stating what you know to be true and what you can do to help. This helps set the tone—and boundaries—for the rest of the conversation.
2. Look for a plan B. If the stress of interacting with this person raises your heart rate or makes you feel sick, it’s time to consider an alternative. At work, you can escalate the issue to a manager, or re-route the call to whomever can better help this person. If you’re dealing with a friend or family member, take some time away from that person to figure out what needs to happen to make the relationship work. Perhaps the presence of a third person or a strict limit on how much time you spend together will help.
3. Focus on yourself—not the other person. If you tend to instinctively blame yourself in the midst of or after a negative interaction, you’re falling into the Personalizing thinking trap. For example, say your mother-in-law is criticizing your cooking, she could have many reasons why she’s upset that have nothing to do with you. Does she have an iceberg belief about control that manifests in the kitchen? Has she just had a bad day? Personalizing gives you tunnel vision, narrowing your focus to a single source of the problem: you. You’re not seeing what the other person did or what outside circumstances brought it on.
4. Take a pause. Confronting an unpleasant person can derail your whole day—but only if you let it. Even a five minute break in the middle of a hectic day can be restorative. For example, if you’re on the phone with someone, use a pause in the conversation to take a few deep, calming belly-breaths. Once the interaction ends, watch a funny video on YouTube, text a friend, or take your lunch outside. If you take a moment to unwind, you’ll return to the person or problem with a fresher, calmer mind.