Dealing With Difficult People

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

We all deal with people who bug us every day. Sometimes the people who annoy us are our neighbors, our co-workers, or our family members. Improving our ways of dealing with difficult people can help us enrich our own lives and decrease urges to use substances to cope with uncomfortable feelings.

woman in recovery dealing with difficult peopleA common precursor to substance use is emotional discomfort. A common source of emotional discomfort is conflict in relationships. Many people go to great lengths to avoid conflict in relationships. However, it is often much more useful to focus our energy on managing conflict in relationships rather than avoiding conflict altogether. When conflict arises in a relationship it is important to discuss the conflict when emotions are manageable and not extreme. Below are three techniques to help manage conflict in relationships.

  1. Refer to specific actions and avoid general statements. Rather than telling your co-worker that he is being rude and inconsiderate, tell your co-worker that he didn’t knock before entering your office, or that he told you what to do rather than asked.
  2. Refer to what you want rather than what you don’t want. Ask your co-worker to please knock rather than just walk in, or tell your mother-in-law that you would like it if she called before stopping by your home.
  3. Reward the actions you appreciate. When your mother-in-law does call before stopping by, tell her you appreciate her call and why. When your co-worker knocks before entering your office, thank him because it gave you a second to finish your thought in the email you were writing.

All healthy relationships require negotiation and compromise. It is important to appear confident when we ask for what we want and to be flexible in how we negotiate a compromise. Avoiding conflict now usually results in confrontation later, a common cycle that damages relationships. Everyone who irritates us offers us an opportunity to understand ourselves better and improve our communication. Healthy relationships discuss points of conflict in an open and respectful manner, and maintaining healthy relationships decreases the likelihood of problematic substance use.