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3 simple rules for dealing with difficult people

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Photo: Stocksy/Katarina Radovic

Finding peace with the people who push your buttons might sound harder than learning how to properly do a push-up, but mastering the art of conflict resolution is a major part of personal growth.

At least, so says Anne Lamott, author of Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, a spiritual handbook for learning to forgive others—and yourself—of perceived faults. (After all, you can’t blame everything on Mercury retrograde.)

hallelujah-anyway-by-anne-lamott-difficult-peopleAs a writer and political activist, Lamott’s spent plenty of time figuring out effective strategies for diffusing heated situations with people she doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with. The trick, she says, is to kill ’em with what she calls “radical kindness”—AKA the natural generosity and empathy we’re all born with but lose along the way as we grow up.

The first step to dealing with difficult people, she believes, is to understand where the real issue stems from. “The reason we’re mean to each other is because of our own self-rejection, and we hang it on other people,” Lamott explains. “[So if] we start to work on not being so critical or perfectionistic with ourselves, that radiates out.”

That level of self-acceptance takes time, though, so I asked Lamott for some practical advice on ways to handle situations with challenging people you might encounter on your road to self-actualization.

When you have to interact with difficult people, it helps to set up some ground rules—here, in her own words, are 3 Lamott swears by.

Photo: Stocksy/Carolyn Lagattuta
Photo: Stocksy/Carolyn Lagattuta

1. Try a kindness reminder

Mercy begins when we find it in our own heart for ourselves. I think it leads to feeling more tenderly toward people, and wanting to just be done with the resentment and strife—because if I’m not going to be gentle and generous with myself, I won’t have it in me to give to people.

I have a rubber band I wear on my wrist, and if I’m judging myself or others, I use it to [literally] snap myself back to awareness that I’m really the one who hurts when I’m being judgmental.

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Photo: Stocksy/Katarina Radovic

2. Confront conflict with compassion

Mercy doesn’t mean you have to have lunch with this person; it means that you come to understand in your heart that it’s very hard for them to be here at all. Even though they come off as being arrogant or officious or negative, that’s some sort of defensive mechanism. Say “hi”—that’s all you have to do. You don’t have to talk about the history of your feelings for them. 

Photo: Stocksy/Trinette Reed

3. Relinquish the idea of being “right”

People, including ourselves, can be pretty annoying. As you grow up, you just have to ask yourself how much more time you’re going to devote to being right, or correcting people’s behaviors, or withholding. Because when we withhold decency and good manners from someone, we’re the ones who pay.

Here are 11 tips on cultivating more self-love and acceptance from wellness pros, and a 20-minute meditation to help silence inner negative talk