We all know them—the difficult people. The ones who challenge us to the core.

Unfortunately, we can’t ship them all off to their own island, so we must learn how to deal with them. Fortunately, it’s possible, but it may require a level of soul searching that you have not yet attempted. At the risk of sounding like Oprah (not that there’s anything wrong with that), here are 15 ideas for handling challenging people.

1. Accept reality.
Difficult people are not likely to change; they behave that way for a reason. They may have had challenges in their lives that negatively affect their ability to interact with others. As hard as it may be, try to show empathy and compassion, and see them as human beings just like you. They’re doing the best they can with what life has given them.

2. Don’t take it personally.
Their issues are their issues and have nothing to do with you. If you take it personally, your emotions will come into play, which will increase the likelihood of conflict.

3. Listen.
It sounds simplistic, but it really is an effective tool. Sometimes people are difficult because they don’t feel heard or understood. Merely listening to them is a great way to acknowledge their viewpoint, and gain an understanding of what they want, and from there progress can begin.

4. Be very clear.
If you let your intentions be known, and give them the reasons and background behind your thought process, they will be better able to empathize with you and therefore more likely to cooperate.

5. Prepare.
Think about how the conversation will go and what feelings will arise for you, and then you will be better equipped to deal with the emotions when they surface.

6. Be positive.
If you are thinking about how you can create a good outcome, it puts your brain in a very creative and positive mode.

7. Breathe.
Deep breaths are scientifically proven to have a calming effect. It’s a great method to deploy before, during, and after your troubling interaction.

8. Show respect.
Hiding your true feelings is not always easy, especially if this person has repeatedly caused problems for you. However you will have much better results with a congenial tone.

9. Stick to the facts.
Literally approach it like a science experiment—separate facts from assumptions and negative emotions. This will keep the conversation on more of an even keel.

10. Connect on a personal level.
This one may make you laugh, and if going to lunch with this person is out of the question, that’s fine. But at the very least, have some interactions on a personal level. This could be as simple as asking about his or her family or hobbies. The likelihood of conflict decreases in proportion to the rapport you have in place.

11. View it as a learning experience.
You may chuckle at this one too, but life really does hand us lemons for a reason.

12. Seek advice.
Sometimes talking about an impossible situation aloud will yield answers you wouldn’t find otherwise. Plus, the third party isn’t emotionally involved and therefore may see a solution that wouldn’t occur to you in your state of angst.

13. Let it go.
If you focus on how crazy the person is, that gives him power over you. Try not to let the situation haunt your thoughts.

14. De-stress.
Take the dog for a walk. Do yoga. Meditate. Watch your favorite television show. Anything to just loosen up a bit and take the focus off the stressful situation.

15. Congratulate yourself.
It’s time for chocolate, a glass of wine, or heck—even an ice cream sundae! You have certainly earned it, and treating yourself for a job well done in a difficult situation is always a good idea.

So, yes: there are people who were put on this earth to challenge us. But if we take the right approach, we can add some much-need sanity to what is too often a toxic situation.

From Print Matters¸ Volume 13, Issue 2, March 2019