Like the 2004 Saturday Night Live character “Debbie Downer” some people are just not happy unless their unhappy. Let's face it, as hard as we try, we cannot avoid contact with difficult people.
Difficult people come in every conceivable variety. Some talk constantly and never listen. Others must always have the last word. Some fail to keep commitments. Others criticize anything that they did not create. Difficult people compete with others for power, privilege and the spotlight; even if they don't deserve it. This can be more than frustrating. Recently, after dealing with a difficult person, my mentor reminded me of this quote:
“Never Let a Problem to be Solved Become More Important Than a Person to be Loved.”
With this philosophy in mind, I have collected what I believe to be 5 practical ways to deal with such difficult people.
5 Ways to Deal with Difficult People
Don’t get dragged down:
The old saying “Misery loves company.” reigns true. The most important thing is to be aware of who the Debbie and David Downers are in your life and to make sure they don’t suck you into their world of negativity. The last thing we want is for them to add another member to their sickness.
Use a time limit for venting:
Remember that there is a difference between being a constant pessimist and having an occasional need to vent. Everybody has tough times, and sharing our feelings can make us feel better. Use the “5-10 minute rule” when it comes to this. Let your friends vent for five to ten minutes, but after that, assume that they've entered Downer mode, and proceed with the next steps.
It’s tempting to try to appease Downers to make them stop and go away. As the person complains about their day or boyfriend or whatever, you might be inclined to give a little nod of your head or a quiet “yeah” or shrug a “what can you do?” Even though these responses seem harmless, they throw fuel on the fire and push them even further from healing.
Don’t stay silent:
If you are clearly listening but say nothing, Downers will interpret your silence as agreement. Worse, if others are present, they too will assume that you agree. Whether the complaint is about another person or their political views, silence means you agree with the complainer.
Switch extremes into facts:
Negative people often speak in extremes. They talk about “never” and “always.” A practical goal to help push them toward healing is to switch them to fact-based statements. (see below)
Negative Nancy: John is such a slacker! He’s never on time for our morning meetings. How are we supposed to hit our deadlines when he’s never here?
You: Nancy, you’re clearly frustrated. I seem to remember that John was on time at our meetings on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. He was late on Thursday and Friday. So you mean he's late frequently, not always; right?
Ultimately, we will experience a lifetime of difficult people. As long as we remember our job is to encourage healing, care, and love, we will change not only our lives, but their hearts, too.
What has helped you deal with difficult people? Let me know in the comments below 🙂