“There are several simple practices that can help us make great strides in improving our relationships…key elements of the mindfulness practice.” – Charles Francis
If you aren’t acquainted with or know someone who is “difficult” to deal with, you should count your blessings – as this is a luxury very few of us have. The majority of us are required to cope with individuals – at work, within our family, or elsewhere – who seem to have a superhuman ability to push each one of our “piss me off” buttons.
What do most people do when they’re around such a difficult person? Usually, one of three things: (1) remain polite and quiet until they can depart, (2) find a way out of the situation, or (3) unleash a verbal assault on said person.
Solution #1 isn’t healthy, solution #2 isn’t always realistic (or healthy), and solution #3 can bring about some unforeseen (usually bad) consequences.
Maybe the person is a co-worker who gets under your skin five days a week, a family member who deliberately seeks an argument, or some stranger in line at the local coffee shop. A toxic person can introduce themselves in many ways. Regardless of the scenario, how we choose to respond is within our control.
How we choose to respond; not succumbing to the fight option of the automatic “fight or flight” response in the brain.
The only way that we can successfully achieve the abovementioned is by being mindful. Mindfulness in the context of this article is to recognize the “trigger,” acknowledge your feelings, and choose the appropriate action with mindful deliberateness.
Here, we discuss five methods of mindfully responding to a difficult person. Choosing to be mindful instead of impulsive has numerous benefits, as we’ll discuss below.
Here are five mindful ways of dealing with someone difficult:
1. Become an observer
To become an observer is to exist in a situation with a third-party perspective. Instead of participating in whatever is unfolding in front of us, we sit back and simply witness the unfolding. This mindful reaction to difficulty is all about understanding the temporary nature of what is going on; while understanding that no situation is beyond a mindful approach.
In simple terms, one’s inner dialogue while in this state may look something like this: “Right now, this is happening. It is not permanent; nor does it need my attention. Let it pass – as it will assuredly pass.”
2. Have a “Beginner’s Mind”
To possess a beginner’s mind is to realize that something is to be learned from each interaction. This essential tenet of mindfulness is applicable when the interaction invokes the very human need to “be right” – a debate, for example.
Conflict often arises when one person “knows” something, and the other believes that they “know” something else. Who is right or wrong in this situation is not relevant, as nobody can honestly confess that they know everything.
Resisting the need to be right in a volatile situation is often the best solution. Instead, try using a “not knowing” outlook – and try to gain something out of the situation.
3. Act with compassion
Compassionate action is inseparable from any mindful practice. Mindfulness requires both self-compassion and compassion for others; this does not imply that you agree with someone else, just that you choose to focus instead on their humanity.
As mentioned, each one of us possesses certain “triggers” that can result in an impulsive reaction. Practicing compassion with difficult people allocates a space for their differences without judgment, which allows you to maintain a sense of equanimity and peace.
4. Breathe deeply
Mindful breathing is an invaluable asset when facing difficult people, and is a very simply practice. Instead of focusing on the external stimuli (the difficult person), you instead turn your attention inwards and focus on each breath. Ideally, deep breathing is best done when in a comfortable position and relaxed environment, but this is not always possible.
Mindful breathing relaxes your mind and body, enabling you to better deal with any difficult or stressful situation; this includes, of course, interactions with difficult people.
5. Smile and relax the body
Deep breathing segues nicely into this next topic: smiling and relaxing the body with mindfulness.
If the situation is not highly volatile (e.g., physically threatening), smiling in the face of difficulty not only eases our internal tension, it has a way of lowering someone else’s defense mechanisms. Smiling while maintaining a relaxed posture may just be enough to diffuse or avoid a potential conflict with a difficult person.
The more we practice a mindful outlook no matter the situation, the more positive any outcome will be. It is important to remember that mindfulness is a skill and one that requires some discipline up front and gentle guidance afterward. In this respect, try to fit in 20 to 30 minutes of mindfulness-based practice every day.