From cranky relatives to annoying colleagues, how can you best navigate difficult people this holiday season?
1. Show up calm. Yes, you can.
Being grounded when dealing with difficult people means the battle is half won – they are way less likely to trigger you.
Sound impossible given the stress of the season? It isn’t.
Resetting your stress levels can take as little as ten-minutes with modern therapy tools. You can even do most of them en route to the party, sitting on a bus or train. Try one of the following to show up calm:
a bout of furious journalling (rip up the pages after if it feels good).
2. Turn down the drama dial starting now.
Often, when we know we will see someone we don’t like, we start to talk about it to anyone will listen, working ourselves into a frenzy. We then show up ready to fight, and can actually create a conflict we could have otherwise avoided.
Take a moment now to stop talking and get quiet with your thoughts. Then ask yourself, “Am I making assumptions? Is my thinking distorted?” (Read our list of cognitive distortions to be sure).
Look for extreme, black and white thoughts and work to turn them ‘grey’. For example, ‘they hate me’ might become ‘they don’t always seem to like me’. ‘There will be a war’ becomes ‘they might say something mean’.
3. Seek similarities.
With people we don’t like we tend to focus on how we are different from them, which then affects our body language.
A small tweak that can affect the way the other person reacts to you is to find a similarity and repeat it in your mind, whether that is just that you are both wearing the same colour, chose the same drink, or even both look exhausted. You will come across as more open and relaxed and they will respond in kind.
be sure the other person understands you too, by asking them to clarify what they heard
use statements that being with ‘I’ instead of the accusatory ‘you’
if you need time to think, say so. Never be pushed for an answer.
4. Be selfish.
Conflict arises when we approach difficult people so worried what they will think of us and want from us, we come across as defensive.
Give yourself the gift of appropriate selfishness. Change those questions to, what do I want from this situation? What do I think works for me? This leaves you less stressed and more able to make good decisions.
5. Set strong boundaries.
If you have spent your entire life trying to be ‘nice’, setting boundaries can seem a big deal. Surely the other person will hate you, or their will be a huge drama to come of it?
Actually, there won’t.
If you set boundaries in a calm, assured and kind way, then the other person most often just accepts the boundary and goes and finds someone else to accommodate their request. It’s really that simple.
Try the ‘broken record technique’. This means clearly saying the same thing (no) again and again, in subtle variations, until it lands. You do not offer any reasons, you don’t get into it, you just say no.
“No, I can’t cover your shift over the holidays, no I am not available, no I’m sorry, no I can’t, as I said I am not available, no.”
7. Exit stage right.
Somewhere along the way many of us seem to have taken on some unwritten rule that if you are at a party, or in a conversation you don’t like, you are stuck.
You are actually perfectly free and able to leave a party early, or to say mid difficult conversation that you ‘have to go deal with something but will be back’. Feel too hard to do? Then claim nature calls and rush off to calm down in the bathroom for five minutes. While honesty is a great policy, a break to re-centre is better then saying things you don’t mean.
8. Stop making shapes of it all.
A triangle, in conflicts, is when another person is unfairly bought into a disagreement, even if that is just verbally. For example, if you are disagreeing with your sister and you say, ‘well I’m sure Mother agrees with me’, you’ve just inflated your power by bringing in a third person.
And if the other person loves a battle, you’ve just thrown them a match. Before you know it they will call your Mother over and have everyone in the room involved. Avoid a war by representing just yourself, and asking them to keep others out of it also.
9. Do a 180 on your perspective.
What if you switched perspective? And if instead of seeing a run-in as something to dread, you prepared in advance and saw it as an opportunity to try out new communication skills?
The funny thing with this is, if the other party thrives off fighting then senses you are for some reason happy to see them, they might not even bother with you.
And if you just always end up in conflict, every year?
If the truth is that you always have a few people you are avoiding or fighting with, then it might, in the end, be you.
Unresolved childhood trauma can mean you are too easily emotionally triggered. Or perhaps you were just raised in a home where you were never allowed to be yourself, leaving you an adult who can’t connect with others in healthy ways.