Dealing with Difficult People is Never Fun

Expert Author Sondra Whitt

Life would sure be easier if we didn’t have to deal with difficult people, wouldn’t it? Those irritating people who don’t signal to turn, those who insist on the team project being done in their own particular way, or those who have that exhausting stream-of-consciousness talking style – just to name a few. There’s a varied spectrum of behaviors from mildly irritating and easily overlooked to truly difficult, obnoxious, manipulative, or harmful behaviors that shouldn’t be tolerated.

Everyone has their own unique list of irritants, both significant and insignificant. One of mine is unfriendly checkout clerks; another is people who mumble so that you can’t understand them. I got to experience both of those when I checked out at the grocery store yesterday evening. It was a store that I don’t normally shop in and as I pushed my cart into line, the girl gave me a disapproving look but didn’t say a word. She just looked down at my cart, then looked up at me, looked down at my cart, then back up at me. Finally she started unloading my cart, while still glancing up at me to show me her disapproval. I smiled and asked her if she wanted me to unload the cart to which she replied, “Yes … mumble, mumble, mumble.” I said, “Pardon me?” She just repeated herself in the same monotone voice, “Yes … mumble, mumble, mumble.” The way the lane was constructed I didn’t think I needed to unload my cart but apparently I did. I didn’t ask her to repeat herself again, thinking to myself It doesn’t really matter what she said and just laughed about it as I left the store.

Although the girl’s behavior irritated me, my behavior obviously irritated her. So apparently, in her mind, I was the difficult person! I wasn’t following the grocery store checkout rules! It made me wonder how many other times I’m unintentionally the irritant in someone’s life. Probably more times than I want to know. Sometimes I even irritate myself!

Then there are the behaviors that shouldn’t be tolerated because they’re just plain rude, harmful or manipulative. One of my coaching clients, Jane, has a destructive, painful relationship with her sister. Whenever she and her sister talk, it escalates into the sister making screaming, hurtful accusations and Jane crying and saying she’s sorry. Jane accepted this behavior from her sister because she so desperately wanted a close relationship with her after living far apart for several years. She thought that if she kept apologizing and asking for forgiveness, her sister would see how much she loved her and would also want that loving, close relationship. Jane has finally realized she has to distance herself from her sister for self-protection because she’s hurting herself when she allows her sister to treat her this way. She’s realizing that her relationship with her sister is what it is and begging her sister’s forgiveness for perceived wrongs won’t make the relationship what Jane wants it to be.

I asked Jane if she thought that her sister acts the way she does because that behavior has gotten her what she wanted. Jane thought back to their childhood and realized that her sister was always difficult and that when she acted hateful, people gave in to her to try to keep her happy. Jane’s sister learned as a young child to manipulate people with her bad behavior and even as an adult continued to do so. If we want people to treat us differently, we have to let them know their behavior is unacceptable to us and to stop rewarding them for treating us badly. If someone consistently treats us in an unacceptable or inappropriate way, we should ask ourselves if we’re reinforcing that behavior by rewarding it. Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated – whether minor irritants or major manipulation.

Sondra Whitt is a founding partner of Purpose Unlimited, whose purpose is to transform lives, leaders and organizations through the power of purpose. She has a masters degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and consults, coaches, writes and speaks on personal and organizational development. She specializes in problems in the workplace, communication, team-building, selection, and finding and living your purpose in life.

(Blondiepie here):  There is always prayer, and I found the Saint to pray to, Holy Acarius, Pray for Us!  If you’re truly interested in praying to St. Acrius, here is a link you can follow:


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