How to Deal with Difficult People Mindfully, Part 1

  • Posted on April 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm

By Charles Francis

We all have difficult people in our lives—some almost impossible to get along with. It seems like almost every time we engage them, we end up getting caught in a power struggle, which can often escalate into volatile situations. Though it is indeed a challenge to turn these relationships around, we can at least make the situations significantly better.

They Are Wounded People

The first thing we need to remember is that difficult people are that way for a reason. They are often angry at the world because they feel hurt and victimized by the general population, so they take out their anger on everyone they encounter.

Sometimes, they are angry with people from whom they can no longer get justice, such as a parent or sibling who may have victimized them when they were a child. For them, it takes a great deal of work to heal these wounds. We sometimes make things worse by touching those wounds that have not yet healed. When we do this, we usually get a negative reaction.

How Can We Make Things Better?

Though we may not be able to cure difficult people of their emotional afflictions, we can certainly not aggravate the situation. The first thing we need is a great deal of compassion. We need to look behind their wall of defense and see the wounded child looking for respite from the pain and suffering. Once we can see the wounded child in them, it is much easier for us to behave in a more kind and gentle manner. One powerful tool at our disposal is deep listening.

Deep Listening

The power of deep listening never ceases to amaze me. Oftentimes, people who are deeply wounded feel like nobody listens to them. The message they get is that others don’t think they are worthwhile. We can turn that around. By listening to them, we send them the clear message that someone thinks what they have to say is important, and therefore, they too are important. We can sometimes turn an adversary into a friend.

Practicing deep listening takes a great deal of patience. At first, the other person will try everything they can to engage us in a power struggle. We must be mindful of this and resist the temptation to strike back as a response to their harsh words.

The next thing to do is listen to their concerns with genuine interest. They will often be surprised that someone is truly interested in their concerns. When they realize that, their demeanor will usually change. They often become less abrasive.

When we engage difficult people, we sometimes become drawn into a power struggle or volatile situation. We can diffuse these situations by remaining calm and listening deeply to their concerns. When we do this, they will sometimes realize that we are not out to inflict more pain and suffering on them, and are genuinely concerned for their well-being.

Deep listening is one of the tools at our disposal for dealing with difficult people. In Part 2 of this series of articles, we will talk about another useful tool—mindful speech.

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