Do you have people in your life who are so difficult and demanding that speaking your mind feels like it’s not even worth the hassle?
If you’re nodding your head, then this episode is for you.
I’m giving you proactive ways to approach impossible people and tips to verbally de-escalate situations so you can protect yourself from being harmed by future interactions!
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Having to deal with difficult personalities and unreasonable people is a fact of life.
The question is: how do we deal with those folks and keep our sanity intact? The answer: we have to get strategic. If not, we leave ourselves too vulnerable to deal with whatever it is they are dishing out. Having a strategy ahead of time prepares us for the inevitable moments of stress and conflict that can arise with unreasonable people and allows us to protect ourselves.
Let’s start with someone who is quick to escalate when you are trying to discuss something. Do you have someone in your life who gets superheated very quickly? Here’s how to de-escalate the situation and still be heard:
- Keep your cool. It’s essential for you to stay calm even when the other person is anything but calm. To the best of your ability, don’t let their activation activate you.
- Listen to what they are saying. When someone is already in an activated state, if you start interrupting or giving them a lot of pushback, the chances of a good outcome and reaching a deeper understanding are small.
- Try not to judge. Do your best to remain as neutral as possible, and try not to say anything critical or judgmental.
- Instead, try saying something like, “I hear you,” or, “Help me understand how you feel”. This strategy can be effective when it comes to de-escalating someone who is already activated. Difficult personalities have a very low tolerance for their own frustration, so what they need in a moment like this is to vent. That’s not to say you should always be the one they vent to!
- Try not to get defensive. This can be hard when someone is being unreasonable, and believe me, I get it. My natural inclination in these situations is to point out how ridiculous this person is being. In my personal and professional experience, getting defensive with impossible people, even though it’s natural, doesn’t make it better. Take a deep breath and try not to take what they are saying personally. It’s really about them anyway, right?
So much of the time, the underlying needs of the other person are what we need to find in order to de-escalate them. When difficult personalities are upset, they are usually projecting their feelings and displacing their aggression onto you. Their need is to be seen, understood, and heard (even if they are being irrational).
Our instinct when things get heated can be to immediately step away from the conversation, but if we do so abruptly, it often will escalate the situation. So shutting it down in an aggressive or harsh way is not the thing to do. Stay calm, let them have their say (without accepting abusive behavior), and when it makes sense, extricate yourself from the conversation as gently as possible.
Get honest and real with yourself about the people in your life who consistently bait you or try to draw you into conflict. Don’t take the bait. Know your people and act accordingly.
Do you ever feel like someone intentionally misunderstands you on a regular basis?
I have someone in my life who no matter what I say will always take the opposite side and question me. I’ve never really understood it, but I do understand it is just in his nature to be contrary and crave debate, so I have learned to step back from being sucked into a conflict with this particular person as a rule.
Being proactive also means knowing yourself and getting really clear about what is on your side of the street and what isn’t when you are in the thick of it with a difficult person. If you tend towards codependency or are an auto-fixer, you are likely especially vulnerable to wanting to always have the answer for someone and to be of service in some way.
No matter who the difficult person is in your life, it is not your job to save them, in fact, it is not even possible for you to do that. Some people are very attached to their unhappiness. Their misery and disappointment with life can be deeply entwined with their identity. These personality types talk about what bad luck they have, how life is so unfair, how they can’t get a break etc. The reality of interacting with individuals like this, especially if you are codependent, is they will definitely find a way to make you the target of their anger and frustration.
So know thy self! If you’re an auto-advice giver, an auto-fixer, a people-pleaser, and/or a highly codependent human being, practice allowing the misery-loves-company types to just BE, without you taking it on. When you can get clear on what is and what isn’t yours, you can say something like, “I’m not responsible for that, but if you want to talk about how you’re feeling, that’s OK.”
As a recovering codependent and auto-helper, I know firsthand how we can attract these types into our lives. It’s like they are attracted to our light and our desire to help. And even though we may have the best intentions to try and problem-solve with them, again and again, unreasonable and impossible people will come up with a reason why your solution won’t work or another problem. It’s like quicksand. You can decide to stop letting this dynamic take up your precious bandwidth and instead allow them to be the way they are.
Remember, we can’t approach others as if they are like us, even though there is a natural inclination to do so. Positive projection is when we make assumptions other people want, think, and believe the same things we do. The world isn’t like that…and unreasonable people are definitely not like that! It doesn’t make them bad people per se, it just makes them different. This means we can’t act from the assumption that if they have a problem, they want to solve it (as we would).
You can still love them and be supportive without getting deeper and deeper into their chaos. Long ago I stopped making suggestions about what the difficult people in my life should do. I will usually say something like, “Hey, I have no doubt you’ll figure it out. Because, really, you’re the only one who can.”
What’s the best way to protect ourselves from being harmed by these personality types? Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! It can be hard to set boundaries with the people in our lives and it is even more so if they are especially difficult. If you know there is definitely going to be pushback, it can be doubly challenging to communicate clear, healthy boundaries.
Raise your awareness around your comfort level with boundary setting. Are you okay doing it? Do you know how to take a step back from some of these relationships when necessary? Setting healthy boundaries means effectively communicating your preferences, desires, limits, and deal breakers.
When it comes to unreasonable people, even if you say your boundary script perfectly, they may still find a way to take issue with the way that you set it, with your tone of voice, etc. For some people, no matter how you do it, you’re going to be doing it wrong according to them.
If you have someone who is constantly accusing you of something or who always complains about the same thing and they aren’t willing to change, ask yourself:
“Why am I allowing them to take up all this bandwidth in my life?”
There are so many reasons why we can find ourselves in these situations – like guilt, a sense of obligation, and fear of rejection. Maybe you’ve never tried to assert yourself because, as I said at the top, it just feels like too much of a hassle. But taking your life back requires us to develop our Boundary Boss skills and deal with our own side of the street.
We need to learn how to get clear on our actual responsibilities. Are you taking emotional responsibility for something that is not yours to take? It is possible to be completely supportive and keep your boundaries intact. It just takes practice.
I have more resources and ideas for things you can do in this week’s downloadable guide, so be sure to grab that right here.
Whoever it is, the bottom line is you can stay lovingly attached to the people in your life and not take this stuff on. It requires a shift in strategy, a willingness to take an honest look at yourself, and badass boundary skills. You can do this!
I hope that you have an amazing week and as always take care of you.