How to handle difficult people during the holidays

how to handle difficult people

Unfortunately, the pressure of the holidays can bring out the worst in people. Maybe some of these characters are familiar: cranky drivers hunting for parking spaces, apathetic customer service reps, negative relatives, over-imbibing party goers, a self centered acquaintance who corners you at a party.

Frustration and impatience can easily bring out the worst in us, too. Though justified, reacting in kind to rudeness, anger, or negativity inflames an already tender situation.

Getting cut off in traffic could become the catalyst for me to treat a retail employee poorly, who then treats her next customer poorly, who then yells at her kid. Or I could take a deep breath, let it go, and decide to be a bright spot in what is bound to be a long and stressful day for the retail employee.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1

Two of the best responses to difficult people this time of year: 

Empathy: Instead of looking at these situations as me vs. them, see if you can bring yourself to their side somehow. I heard a few years ago that “hurting people hurt people” and I’ve often thought of it when I’ve felt wronged, especially by a stranger.

If someone is acting rude and nasty to me, it’s probably because of pain in her own life. When I remember that it has almost nothing to do with me, I can more easily respond with kindness.

Silence: Do you feel the need to get the last word in? I used to feel this obnoxious need to set the record straight, but to what end?

There are times when speaking the truth is important, even when it’s uncomfortable. When it’s inconsequential, there’s no need to publicly correct and embarrass someone.

Silence is also a great response in poor customer service situations. Even if it’s just pausing an extra beat before responding, thinking for a moment about what you’ll say and what tone you’ll use. Treat people with respect, and they’re likely to reciprocate. Even if they don’t, your blood pressure will thank you.

And two questions to ask yourself: 

How am I contributing to the problem? Maybe I’ve gotten into a “whose life is worse” contest with a negative relative, or bitten the bait to discuss news story soundbites. Maybe I’ve spoken harshly to the flight attendant.

If someone is driving you crazy, take a step back and think about how you might be part of the problem.

Is this worth getting worked up about? Anger and stress aren’t just momentarily uncomfortable; they are harmful to our health. Even if you’ve been wronged, you’re only hurting yourself by stewing on it. The rude driver is long gone, but you have to live with your thoughts all day.

What tips do you have for treating maddening people with love and grace?

This post is part of a doing less to build more: holiday edition series.

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