Dealing with difficult people: taking a kinder path.


Some people can really rub us up the wrong way and sometimes it’s easier to stay calm and kind than others.

When facing what feels like criticism or judgement, it can be easy to get drawn into arguments and negativity, but there are some positive ways to help us manage these moments.

  • Breathing – when adrenaline starts rising to the surface and we are at risk of reacting badly, take a moment to breathe before responding. Taking the time to pause, or counting to ten and focusing on our breathing, can be all we need to calm down, get back in control and respond more considerately. In the right circumstances taking a mouthful of food can be a great delaying tactic.
  • Really listening – be curious about what the other person is saying, we may not have heard correctly or may be putting words into their mouths. What we hear may not be the same as what was meant, or even what was said.  Think of those times when we are sure that others have not really got what we’re saying, maybe this is a time when we’ve got it wrong. Be generous in your interpretations.
  • Be aware that the actions of others often reveal more about them than you. If someone seems unkind consider that they may be dealing with their own sadness and hurt, fear and confusion. Similarly the same can be said for us – we may be sensitive about certain topics, have our own issues we need to work through and others comments may bring these to the surface. Regardless of whether they meant what we think they meant or not, the comments that others make are a reflection of them and not us, we can feel compassion for them and remind ourselves that we have a choice about how we respond.
  • Remember you do not have to say anything – if you love and value this person or know it is difficult to avoid them then you may be fearful of damaging the relationship. The positives of your connection may well outweigh temporary irritations so it may be best to just let some stuff go. You can acknowledge that you have different opinions, experiences and even values and that you may never agree on certain matters. ‘Least said, soonest mended!’ could serve us well here. I used to fear that if I didn’t challenge discriminatory remarks by others, then my children might think these were okay. I was wrong to worry. The strength of our relationship and our ongoing conversations, being kinder and calmer, trusting them and being someone they can trust – these are far more powerful influences than the occasional outburst from others. These can even provide positive opportunities, encouraging us to learn more about a subject and explore our own thoughts and opinions. We can explore issues at another time when the strong emotions of the moment have subsided a little and there is less scrutiny from others.
  • Be like the oak tree – defence can weaken our position and be a form of attack. Remember who you want to be and be that person, avoid being dragged down a route you have not chosen by others aiming to provoke or shock.

In no way is this meant to suggest that you should always stay quiet and never challenge or that you should be submissive and in agreement with everyone. I do believe strongly that we should challenge cruelty, injustice, prejudice and discrimination but this does not always have to be by direct confrontation. There are times when words will be more or less effective or appropriate. When you have been down the same road many times and know that it does not lead where you would like to go, then try another way. Keeping your focus and attention on the positives and challenging negativity by your actions can speak volumes.

Consider what you wish to achieve and how best to do this. When seeking to promote kindness then arguing may not be the most effective tool. By modelling patience, kindness and peace, by caring for others in compassionate and sensitive ways and by staying present and open to learning then we will do little harm and may achieve so much.




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