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4 tips for dealing with difficult people

By Berni Dymet

The moment I mentioned those two words – “Difficult People” I know what’s happening in your head. You’re immediately picturing the face of the most difficult person in your life. Your pulse rate has just gone up and the emotions are racing. Why is that?

Pavlov’s Dogs
You know the story of Pavlov’s dogs right?

In his digestive research, Pavlov and his assistants would introduce a variety of edible and non-edible items to dogs, and measure the saliva production that the items produced. Salivation, he noted, is a reflexive process. It occurs automatically in response to a specific stimulus and is not under conscious control. (Ref)

And that is exactly what happens when the stimulus of “difficult people” is waved under our noses. We experience a conditioned emotional response. Our heart takes over and we feel anger, resentment, fear, pain, regret … a potent cocktail of negativity which evokes the fight or flight impulse in us.

That’s okay up to a point, until you realise that while you’re in that frame of mind, there is nothing that you can do, to improve the situation.

Let’s face it – when you’re ready to punch someone in the nose, or you feel like curling up in the foetal position and letting out a primeval scream, you’re not going to be particularly well disposed to dealing with the problem, right?

Engage the Mind
That’s why, when we’re keen on actually doing something to fix the problem, to improve the relationship, to reduce the amount of stress that difficult people cause us – we need to stop and think. We need to engage the mind, to change the circumstances.

Of course, that’s God’s very point:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

That’s easier for some than others. If you’re a “heart person”, one of those people who perceives the world and interacts with it mainly through your heart, then it’s going to be more difficult for you, because your emotions (both positive and negative) play such a big part in this for you.

If, like me, you’re more of a “mind” and “strength” person, it’s less of an issue, but depending on the nature of the relationship, it can still be tough.

The difference between “heart” people and “mind and strength” people, explains why some struggle to deal with difficult people, and others don’t seem to mind too much about having to confront them.

But whichever we are, to make things better, we need to step back from the raw emotion and think about it. That’s the key. It’s not that the steps we need to take won’t involve our emotions, but while we’re busy judging the other person and thinking about all the ways that we can inflict pain on them, we’re not in a position to help them, or ourselves.

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. (Matt 7:1-5)

4 Quick Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

1. Understand Their Pain: Often, that difficult person is 1. going through their own pain. Perhaps they’re living out the consequences of something that happened in the past. Perhaps that difficult person at work, has marriage problems at home. Perhaps they’re insecure, which explains why they have to put other people down so much. Often, when we take the time to realise what they’re struggling with, it’s enough to disarm our own hostility towards them, and put us in a position to make a positive contribution.

2. Forgive Them: Forgiveness is a big thing for God. In fact, it’s the whole point of that Jesus-on-the-Cross thing, right? Have you ever asked yourself why forgiveness is such a big thing for Him? It’s because without forgiveness, there’s no possibility of restoring the relationship. And remember, God forgave you and me through His own suffering, while we were still His enemies. There’s a message in that for you and me. (Rom 5:6-8)

3. Find Ways to Bless Them: Before we forgive them, we want to execute judgement and gain recompense for the loss that they’ve caused us. But once we’ve forgiven them, now we can bless them. Let me ask you, when someone has blessed you when you didn’t deserve it, how did you react? Right … that’s exactly my point. When you and I find ways to bless our enemies, there’s every chance that peace is going to break out. (Matt 5:44-45)

4. The Power of Prayer: Notice that Jesus said there in Matthew 5:44-45 not just to bless them, but to pray for them. God specialises in forgiveness and reconciliation, would you agree? Imagine what could happen if you invited Him into that difficult relationship. Just imagine. First up, I’ve noticed that praying for my enemies changes me. It softens my heart. It moves me down along that path of forgiveness. And secondly, I’ve seen amazing things happen to others, through the power of prayer. (John 14:13-14)

This article first appeared on My Christian Daily.

Berni Dymet is the CEO of ChristianityWorks –