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How to Deal with Difficult People (And not lose your mind!)

(Inside: Dealing with difficult people can be hard. But this one mindset and one action can help turn a struggling relationship into a thriving relationship.)

It’s been 2 weeks since my friend has spoken to me, even though I’ve seen her a hundred times in the time span.

Awesome, right?

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve clashed with someone. In the stress, I can think: Why are people hard to please? Why can people get stuck in a cycle of negativity and not see the disheartening impact they have on others? Why are people so difficult? However, even though I entertain those thoughts, I still hate when people are upset with me. It brings out two sides of me…

The People-Pleaser

I want to smooth the waters at the expense of my self-respect and sanity. I can be like Monica on Friends when she forgets to invite Rachel’s mom to Rachel’s baby shower. She follows Rachel’s mom around the party dishing out unmeaningful compliments and trying to win back the approval of Rachel’s not-going-to-let-it-go mom. I cringe every time I see a rerun of that episode because the groveling Monica can be exactly me.

In this circumstance: please, self-respect, stay strong…Don’t. Let. Me. Stoop. That. Low.

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The Grudge Holder

Or I become any main character in any old western movie. You done me wrong and my gun-slinging, tobacco-spitting self never wants to talk to you again. Am I over it, you ask? Ask me in two years – because it for sure won’t be any sooner than that. Even if you’re my next-door neighbor, I will find a way to make you invisible in my life. You hurt me once, so you’ll never be let back in. Then I ride off into the sunset without looking back.

In conflict, how do I be the person I want to be?

In this situation, I believe 110% in my actions. I’d go further to say, that I know my choices were best and would unapologetically make the same decision again – even knowing my friend’s extremely negative reaction.

Having difficult people in your life can be hard. Knowing how to respond to them can be even harder.

When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to get better at the mile. I ran it in 7 minutes 20 seconds. Now, I know that’s not amazing, but I was no track star. However, I was tired of trailing in the middle to back-of-the-pack during meets – I wanted to be top 3. Here’s the problem: I only wanted to get better in my mind. I didn’t change my workout routines. I didn’t research methods to run faster. Heck, I didn’t even tell my coach my goal.  It’s not surprising my mile time stayed stagnant. Dealing with difficult people can be like that, I say I want to do better except I never do anything about it to actually get better. But not this time.

I wanted to learn and grow in this conflict. I didn’t want to cave, hold a grudge or let the situation irrationally bother me  – it’s okay to be in a disagreement. So, I asked God for help. And He revealed two powerful points of wisdom, first in the mindset I should have and second in the actions, I should take.

how to deal with difficult people

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A Mindset to Take When Dealing with Difficult People

A couple of days after the initial clashing, I sat around a table of about 20 women listening to Maggie Combs share about her book Unsupermommy. The Minnesota roads were icy, the snow piled high and the cold air told me to stay home. But something in my heart urged me: Cheryl, just go to book club.  Maggie began to describe her struggles as a mom – and in her story said something that’s given me life when dealing with difficult people. She kept talking about her desire to have God on the throne of her heart.

Think about what happens to our hearts when we’re in a conflict. This is what wants to sit on my heart’s throne:

  • Pride – I want to be well-liked. (Hello, impossible!) Or, it’s my way or the highway, I’ll listen to your ideas, but I’m not doing them. (Me riding off into the sunset.)
  • Grudge Holding – Never speak to me again…bu-bye,  sweet Felicia.
  • Self-pity – I don’t deserve this…
  • Anger – Let me spew out something I’ll regret. (Then feel guilty about it later. Fantastic.)
  • Anxiety – All the stress!

If you’ve watched every episode of Victoria and The Crown like me, then you know throne rooms. They are elegant and beautiful and made for fine clothes and fine people. As I went through my day – this situation swirling in my brain – I kept picturing Jesus sitting on the elegant throne of my heart. His grace, his love, his hope. Nothing else. When I started to feel prideful, I’d imagine pride on the throne and felt repulsed. When I felt anger, I’d look up to see anger on the throne and he looked unfit. When self-pity was on my throne, she got on my nerves. And anxiety…well, don’t even get me started on the loathing I have for anxiety…

Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

When dealing with difficult people, put God on his throne and don’t let Him move. Because, friends, this is how we are supposed to do life. With God. Our feelings can overwhelm us, but God’s truths are stationary. When Jesus is on the throne, it automatically keeps pride, self-pity, anger, and anxiety at our feet – where they should be. Jesus on the throne in our hearts gives us the healthy mindset we need to deal with difficult people with grace and dignity.

An Action to Take When Dealing with Difficult People

I picked up Bob Goff’s book Everybody Always and these words jumped off the page.

“When I meet someone who is hard to get along with, I think, Can I love that person for the next thirty seconds? Why they continue to irritate me, I find myself counting silently….twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine…and before I get to thirty, I say to myself, Okay, I’m going to love that person for thirty more seconds.  I try and love the person in front of my they way Jesus did for the next thirty seconds rather than merely agree with Jesus and avoid them entirely, which I am sad to say comes easier to me. I try and see difficult people in front of me for who they could become someday, and I keep reminding myself about this possibility for thirty seconds at a time.”

Bob Goff’s words said to me: This is what you should do when dealing with difficult people. You need to love them 30 seconds at a time. Meaning, your actions need to reflect love for them.

It doesn’t mean you have to agree…

It doesn’t mean you have to approve of them…

And it definitely doesn’t mean you need to let them walk all over you… (Boundaries are important.)

but you do need to love them. Sometimes that starts with simply trying not to say something that you will have to apologize for later. Then as time passes and emotions simmer, we extend kindness. We imagine the best version of the difficult individual, and we treat them like they are becoming that person. We operate from a place of hope. It’s hard. But, we’re called to do hard things. So, that’s what we do, friends, we love difficult people 30 seconds at a time. Because if we can love for 30 seconds. Then, you know what? We can love for 30 more…

What kind of person do you want to be? What type of community do we want to live in?

As I was working on ways to deal with this difficult person in my life a thought struck me that almost made me laugh. This person I was clashing with…I bet on her side she’s asking God how to deal with me. Maybe she’s not talking to me because she’s praying she doesn’t say anything she’ll regret. I mean, I am aware that I CAN HAVE MY MOMENTS. (Face in palms.)

I hope she is praying for patience and understanding and grace. And I hope she gets it. Because I want to live in a community where people see the best in me and extend grace. At some point in our lives, we will deal with difficult people or be a difficult person.  But we can all leverage our situations to grow wiser, stronger, and into better people because of it. Then we do hard things – like extend grace. And receive it when it’s extended to us as well.

When you’re dealing with difficult people, 8 minutes a day of silence and prayer can be very powerful.

 I wrote a mini-eBook that explains this idea more and guides us through Christian meditation. It’s called Meditations for Moms: Renewal and Empowerment in 8 Minutes a Day.

I hope it gives you life in the same way it’s helped me work through big emotions as I redirect my focus on the One who is in control of it all.

Related Article: Teach Your Kids to Be Kind in Difficult Situations

Read more in the full thrive in difficult relationships and situations series:

Why can’t I get along with this person, I’m good with people. People are my thing. Why has this year been filled with not this difficult relationship, but hard relationships with an “s?”

I had a year when relationships with three people I cared about unraveled. I had just come out of healing from a miscarriage and being cut from a job I loved (student numbers were down and they cut the lowest tenured teacher). And just when I thought I’d put my life back together and found my way, here I was struggling with not situations, but people.

What a season.

It caused me to explore situations and relationships and figure out how to find peace, healing, and forgiveness in tough times.

I’m in a Funk: A Powerful Mindset to Overcome Your Challenge
Parenting is Hard: This One Thought Can Help You Better Thrive
Moms, How to Prepare for a Fight

I’m So Hurt: What Healing Sometimes Looks Like
When Life Knocks You Down & You’re Tired of Your Struggle
Miscarriage Grief: 5 Reasons Why a Miscarriage is so Emotionally Painful

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