When you find yourself asking, “How do I deal with difficult people?” you should begin by thanking Him because rough people polish you. You know, that nagging, criticizing person who always brings up your past mistakes at the wrong time, or the one who always has a better story than you, has already done it before you, had it bigger, better, and always makes you feel small. Sometimes these people are really jerks; other times, the difficult person may just be you.
I had been helping with a children’s outreach program at a church I attended years ago when one day the pastor called me into his office. Sitting there with him was the head of the children’s department. The pastor said, “Do you understand who is in charge of this children’s ministry?”
I told him yes, that the man sitting there with us was in charge. I had no desire to take over. However, I had thought this department head was being somewhat blockheaded about things. He was newly married and seemed not to have any time for preparation and such, so I had thrown myself whole-heartedly into making the program a success.
The director never said anything, but obviously he was the one who had asked the pastor to call me on the carpet. I had nothing to contest and agreed to allow him to lead. I left that meeting confused, however. I wondered why this guy had a problem with me when I thought he was the problem. That’s when I learned the most important thing about dealing with difficult people:
Many times you are the difficult person
While I would like to clean the slate of all those people that annoy me, I am still busy becoming less difficult with the people I annoy. This takes a lot of nerve to admit, but most of the times when you have a problem with someone… you are the problem. Do you have a few people who are difficult personalities for you to work with? They probably feel the same about you.
The people who annoy you most probably have your own flaws. This is why your children or your parents can get under your skin quickly. When you see a fault in someone, do what it takes to change it in yourself. Often, once you fix yourself, their flaws go away or you find they never had anything more than a mirror image of your own ugliness.
The other time we find people to be difficult to work with is when we are trying to control them. We use labels such as obnoxious, stubborn, feisty, or argumentative to describe people who do not dance to our tune. Many times the tensions will go away if I will stop driving for my agenda. God did not put me here to control anyone, but to lead. This goes with children, too.
If I try to control my children instead of training them, I will wear myself out. Training involves thinking ahead, using logical wisdom, and teaching right principles. Control means threatening or manipulating with emotional outbursts like tears or anger. I stay much more peaceful and likeable when I do not try to control people. Witchcraft is about controlling and manipulating. Christianity is about love and leadership.
Consider the difficult person’s situation
My uncle told my mom a story once about going to the state fair and walking into the gypsy’s tent to find out about his past. He said the woman with the big earrings looked into the crystal ball and said she could see that he had been a dog in his former life. He said he asked her what kind of dog. She said he had been a big, mean, snarling Doberman. He asked how he died; she said a car had hit him.
The family was together for a holiday and gathered around as he told this story. Since my mom was standing next to my uncle as he told this story, he said, “At first I didn’t believe her, but she showed me I still had a scar on my neck from the car wreck, reach your hand up here and feel it.” As Mom reach for her brother’s neck, he turned and snarled at her and started barking like Doberman.
That was a good prank I have enjoyed pulling on other people since then. It also illustrates at truth for those learning how to deal with difficult people: Hurting people hurt people. And sometimes they enjoy seeing others scream and share their misery.
If a person has just had surgery, gone through a divorce, or slammed their thumb with a hammer, they will be a difficult person. Expect it and give them room to heal. Most people are not born jerks. Some emotional scars you will never overcome and will always have to be sensitive—and very careful—around some people. Or you will get bit.
Win favor with humility and love
If you try to go head to head with a difficult person, you will just make yourself like him or her. Difficult people do not try to find favor with others; that’s what makes them difficult. They may only care about themselves or treat you as a pawn. You find them difficult because they do not want your opinion or care about your feelings.
You must choose not to let them change you. Be yourself. Too often, trusting people become suspicious and leery of others because someone does them wrong. That formerly trusting person will say, “Live and learn,” and let some con artist or adulterer ruin their opinion of humanity in general.
Years ago, many people grew to hate birds after seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds movie. People who may have once been nature-lovers thought twice before going outside or when walking through a park where crows gather. Bad situations in life should not bring out bad in us, but good. That topic needs more room than we have here, but for the concept of dealing with difficult people, I should not let the sting of a hateful person embitter me to society.
Speak in word pictures
Difficult people cannot hear you. Yelling does not help. Silent treatment does not either. Step back and look at the big picture of what they really need to hear. Then tell them a story. If, for example, you feel like this difficult person belittles you and humiliates you when you really just want to be a friend, you could tell them a story like this:
Once upon a time, a brave knight lived in the palace of the king. Because of some misunderstanding, the knight got locked in the dungeon. Day after day, the knight desired to see anyone from the outside world. He always hoped the king would come and visit him and restore him to honor. The king did come to the dungeon often. However, he only came to dump off his table scraps and then thrown rocks at the imprisoned knight. The brave knight wanted to prove himself to his king, but felt he would never have the chance. He could not figure out how to get out of that dungeon and become the king’s friend again. After many years of this, the king died one day. People forgot about the knight, since no one really knew why he was in the dungeon to begin with. Eventually, the brave knight died unnoticed and unfulfilled.
Once your difficult person has heard the story, tell him, “I feel like I am that knight with lots of potential and a heart to do right. But, to me, you are that king who keeps me down and will not give me a chance. Could you just let me go from what happened in the past and give me another chance?”
Many times this method of speaking to a person’s heart can be very emotional. This is healthy but can be overwhelming. Be careful not to use such a story to harm a person. Learn more about this strategy for speaking to your loved ones in the book, The Language of Love by Gary Smalley and John Trent.