How To Handle Difficult People Gracefully


Turn frustration with frenemies into happier holidays. 



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Are you nervous about uncomfortable conversations this holiday season? The good news is that there is a way to gracefully handle interactions with difficult people and save your festivities (and your sanity). 

No matter how much you love the holidays, it’s impossible to stay excited and joyful all the time… especially when you run into one of “those people”. You know who I am talking about, the Debbie Downers, the aunt who always wants to fight about politics, the uncle who always asks what you’ve booked lately, or that cousin who just won’t stop pestering you about your love life – or your lack thereof. Bridget Jones, anyone?

In the giving spirit of the season, here are just a few simple ways to apply gratitude and compassion (and maybe even indifference) to those not-so-gracious people in your life, so you can turn frustration with frenemies into happier holidays. 

1) Tune In and Listen

This first step to handling difficult people is always the hardest: listen. Even if you don’t agree with what someone is saying, practice the Golden Rule and give them the respect you’d want them to show you. Let them express their opinion, and try your best to be in the moment and take in their perspective, without rolling your eyes.

Most people just want a chance to be heard, and it’s always valuable to learn about a new life perspective even if you don’t agree with it. 

how to handle difficult people

I have a client who whenever she begins a conversation with someone who triggers her, she hears Kayne West in her head saying, “Imma let you finish, Imma let you finish…” as a reminder to loosen up and tune in to the conversation, instead of interrupting with her response before they finish talking.

And be sure to show your appreciation for the other person sharing their thoughts with you; you never know if it’s actually difficult or nerve-wracking for them as well.

2) Resist Trying To Change Someone

When you’re face to face with a difficult person, and you can just feel your good mood draining from your body, remember this: you’re not trying to change someone, you’re trying to change the exchange you’re having with them. It will definitely save you valuable time!

Resist the urge to label people or make a snap judgement about someone’s whole personality based off of a handful of conversations. Instead, seek out the reasons they are reacting the way they are and ask deeper questions to try and learn where they are coming from. 

It may not resolve the issue, obviously, but it will give you a better understanding of their perspective and intentions. 

how to handle difficult people

3) Plan Your Reaction

Michelle Obama says, “When they go low, we go high,” – and that doesn’t mean you need to be a doormat if someone is attacking you. But perhaps resist the urge to react negatively by planning ahead how you will respond to difficult people you just know you’ll run into over the holidays.

Here’s a technique from Psychology Today, use “If/Then” thinking, so for example, “If my mother tells me my job isn’t a real job, then I will respond by saying, ‘Actually, it is. I really enjoy what I’m doing, and I would appreciate it if you’d respect that.’

how to handle difficult people

4) Take Small Steps In The Same Direction

I’m going to assume that even though you’ve run into someone particularly difficult, you not ready to cut them completely out of your life. Or perhaps, in the case of family, employers, and co-workers, you can’t.

So start moving forward slowly, building a better relationship. Offer genuine compliments. Practice your active listening when you two talk. Focus on what you do have in common. 

Psychologist Andy Selig offers, “Most of the time, all protagonists involved feel like the victim.” So kill’em with kindness and slowly try to get on the same team. You never know when your worst critic could transform into your biggest cheerleader. 

how to handle difficult people

5) Take A Gratitude Time Out

In the movie Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, dolphins are aware of the impending destruction of the planet, but humans don’t understand their warnings. The dolphins send a final message to everyone, and it’s not, “I told you so,” but instead, “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”  In a moment of despair, they still show gratitude for the little things.

That’s an extreme scenario, but giving yourself a break to sit in gratitude for a few minutes will give your body and mind a powerful boost. Even if it’s as simple as enjoying a deep breath, appreciating a good cup of coffee or praising the invention of twinkle lights – reflect on what is working and positive in your life, right now.

how to handle difficult people

6) Apply How You Handle The Situation To The Future

“When something negative occurs, one can either move forward or backwards but not stay in the same place”, so when you encounter a difficult person, pull wisdom from how you handled the situation. Journal about what the experience taught you and how that person has helped shape who you are today (which is a badass, by the way 🙂).

We do not grow in our comfort zone, so show gratitude to the Universe for putting that lesson in front of you. This way you can move forward with new knowledge, strength and compassion (for yourself and others!).

So how will you gracefully handle difficult people this holiday season? I’d love to know how you work in some radical gratitude this time around!! Let me know in the comments below.

LOVE + calmer conversations!

Moniqua Plante

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I'm Moniqua, your new let's-get-real friend.

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A Real Food Devotee + Self Care Connoisseur + Jedi Mindset Master dedicated to helping you elevate your health, your life—and your career.

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