For more than 10 years, I haven’t lived with my family. In fact, I was kicked out of my home during my freshman year in high school and have only ever returned for holidays, birthdays and special occasions. I love my family to death and trust that they are doing the best they can with the knowledge and skills they have, but over the last few years, I started to leave my visits home feeling small, insecure and unsure of who I was. Over time, my defensiveness started to grow and so did resentment for the most important people in my life.
Relationships are meant to strengthen and support us. They should not stress out and drain us. With the holidays around the corner, a number of us will be forced to spend time with long lost family members who know just the strings to pull to make us feel insecure, afraid or otherwise uncomfortable around the table. Whether you’re dealing with anger prone uncles, Debbie-downer friends, closed-minded cousins or a spouse or parent who makes you feel less than you are, I’d like to offer some tips and tricks on how to deal with difficult people around the dining room table and beyond.
How can you proactively prepare?
- Set an intention before showing up. Whether you’re meeting with your future boss or a brother, a neighbor or your 9th grade English teacher, you should set an intention identifying how you want to show up, speak and feel before walking through the door. Get clear through this intention what outcomes are most important to you and to your counterpart. Think about what you can do to build a mutually beneficial relationship that serves both of you best. Then visualize these things unfolding before you step through the door or make the call. A little conscious thought and action on the front end of a conversation will drastically increase the strength and sustainability of a relationship. Along with the likelihood of its success.
How can you address an immediate concern?
- Challenge people in a non-threatening manner. I’m not an advocate for letting your ego run rampant in your communication with others but if someone is belittling you, doing something flat out wrong or otherwise offending you, and you’re not saying something, you are to blame. Speak up for yourself, but do so in a way that avoids defensiveness. Instead of pointing out all of the things wrong with your counterparts’ actions, insults or ideas, ask them for advice on how they would handle a situation where they felt the way you do because of what they said or did. Try something like, “Hey, I’d like to get your advice on something. I noticed __________ and it’s been bugging me. What advice do you have for me?” Asking for advice is a sure-fire way to disarm tension and redirect a relationship to a more positive and productive place.
What if it’s still not working?
- Sit and soak in the feelings, and then separate yourself from them. Do not react. Do not engage with the person that is stirring you up, and instead just sit with the feelings. Observe them and notice what’s bringing them up. Is the person tapping into some unresolved insecurities? What’s at the root of your reaction? Stay fully conscious, and know that you do not have to be pulled back to the same patterns of the past. No-one can harm you with their words without your permission. If you create the awareness to sit with discomforting feelings, separate yourself from them and seek to uncover their root, you will soon open up a door of self- discovery that will allow you to break free from their grasp.
Want to go even deeper?
- Self-Reflect. One of the most powerful things we can do when we’re around difficult people is to use them as a tool to fuel our own personal development and growth. When you see a character trait or bad behavior in someone else that you would have in the past judged or criticized, check yourself. Semi-conscious people don’t want to see their own faults. We often see in others a reflection of our own insecurities, limiting beliefs and self-destructive behaviors. Instead of outwardly attempting to change the other person, use them as a mirror to look inside yourself and uncover where you’re doing the same thing in your life.
- Ask yourself, “Where am I doing _______ in my life?” If you’re not a cop or drill instructor, your job is not to police others. Instead, direct your energy inward when you’re around difficult or destructive people and use the lessons you learn from them as an opportunity for your own understanding and evolution.
What if nothing is working?
- Have the courage to cut people out of your life. You can not create a new life carrying the baggage of old people that keep you tied to the past. Those that do not serve you or your mission, do not deserve to be in your life – family, friend or otherwise. In fact, they need to be removed from your life as soon as possible. Their lack of life is draining you from yours. Everyone needs someone to challenge and support them, to push them to grow and think bigger. Create a new tribe, crew or family that brings out only the best in you!
These tricks have all worked for me but they’re still a work in progress. Try them with family, friends, coworkers, and strangers and see what results they bring for you. Relationships are one of the most common points of friction in our everyday lives. With some conscious thought and action, we can start to master them. If you’re still having trouble with difficult people or need more time to discuss these ideas, let’s jump on a call. Otherwise, let me know what works for you and share any insights or ideas you have.