How to Understand Difficult People

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Stubborn attitudes, snarling replies and selfish tendencies; the behaviour of others can be unfathomably hurtful and unnecessary at times. Why is it that certain individuals display these characteristics, while others remain relaxed, laid-back and flexible? Perhaps It’s In The Stars ? No, the reality is that people are complex, multi-dimensional beings and there is a number of reasons why we are the way we are. To understand the difficult people in your life, follow the below four-step system and you will achieve newfound clarity.

Identify the Problem Traits

The first step in any problem-solving project is to identify the problem. What is it about the person that you find difficult or unmanageable? Grab a pen and paper and list these negative qualities, taking the time to clearly articulate your feelings. Focus on the traits that have reappeared time and time again, forming a pattern of behaviour. Are they consistently rude, arrogant or obstinate? Do they suddenly explode into fits of anger? Identifying when these behaviours arise will also help you understand them further; create a list of all the times where the person engaged in their negative behaviour.

What is the Context?

So you now have a clear idea of what is bothering you and when it occurs. It’s time to think about the why. Conjure up the memory of one of the situations you wrote down. Now freeze-frame it and analyse it. What was the stressor for the behaviour? Were they criticised, nagged or questioned? From here you will be able to formulate the reason for their responses, realising that many behaviours are simply reactions to external factors. Everyone has their hang-ups, and for some people, this includes the inability to maturely and appropriately deal with certain circumstances.

The Past Haunts the Future

A common theme in Gothic literature is the idea of the past haunting the future, with the sins of the parents being revisited upon their children. While some people are able to forge new paths and beliefs for themselves, the reality is that we are all the products of our upbringing and environment in some way. Have you ever unconsciously echoed your parents as an adult, whether in speech or action? Chances are the difficult people in your life are no exception to the rule; whether it’s a defence mechanism or the result of being spoilt, they may have picked up these habits in childhood and are unable to let them go.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

The fourth and final step in the process is to bring it all together and place yourself in their shoes. Considering their traits, stressors, motivations and past, what is the conclusion? Are they to be pitied or tolerated? Sympathetic speculation, flexibility and acceptance can instantly reduce your annoyance and frustration, so use these approaches as coping strategies. If the person is a close friend or family member, you could also try talking to them with your newly acquired perspective in mind.

Have you found this article insightful and helpful? Do you have any ideas to add? Share your tips and stories by commenting in the section below.

Sarah Pinkerton

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