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6 Simple Ways to Deal With Difficult People

We all deal with at least one challenging person in our lives. Below, we show you how to cue calm, stay above the fray, and unleash your confidence.

Let yourself off the hook.

Difficult folks tend to “gaslight” us, making us believe we’re crazy for believing they’re hard to get along with, says expert Renée Evenson. When you find yourself rationalizing their behavior, just repeat to yourself what they did or said.

Often all it takes to realize how unfair they’re being is hearing yourself say their words. Would you ever say the same thing to someone else? This lets you stop carrying their bad behavior on your shoulders.

Watch for these.

There are three main types of “emotional vampires:” the strait jacket, the JJ, and the drama magnet, reveals expert Vanessa Van Edwards. The strait jacket wants control and gets upset when you don’t agree, while the JJ is jealous-judgmental, undermining your happiness. Finally, the drama magnet wants your empathy for their “crises” without reciprocating. Spotting these traps helps you create boundaries and find the freedom you deserve.

Lift your confidence.

Pinpoint their strategy — like the backhanded compliment or passive-aggressive comment — and ask yourself what exactly about it bothers you. If, for example, a co-worker makes a veiled criticism about your latest project, this may offend your fierce work ethic. Recognizing the value they’re undermining helps you understand yourself better, lifting your self-esteem. Says expert Van Edwards, “Examining how you react, instead of how they acted, gives you your power back.”

Practice power phrases.

When a negative person says something critical, try responding with a neutral comment, suggests Evenson. “This allows you to press pause, showing you’re calm and in charge.” Two power statements that’ll allow their words to roll off your back: I hear what you’re saying and Let me think about what you said. This creates space between you and the other person so you can simply walk away or shift the subject — in other words, the ball is now in your court.

Listen for a ‘kernel.’

It’s natural to want to defend yourself. “But try not to overtalk, as it can lead to underlistening,” observes expert Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. When your mother-in-law shares a list of perceived wrongs, for example, try empathetic listening to pick out even a kernel of truth. It may be only one statement out of a dozen you agree with, but it can serve as a springboard to better understanding between you.

Go ahead and forgive 1 percent.

“Too often, we believe full forgiveness is the only path to heal a relationship,” says Lerner. But it’s much healthier to forgive as little as 1 percent by, say, acknowledging stresses in their life that may lead them to lash out — this isn’t an excuse, just an explanation that broadens your perspective. “You need to protect you,” says Lerner. “This 1 percent forgiveness allows you to shield yourself and move on, stronger than ever.”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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