A woman wondering how to deal with difficult people as her co-workers are arguing

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How to Deal with Difficult People: Don’t Engage

Wondering how to deal with difficult people? Welcome to the club. Whether it’s the pushy co-worker who always overpromises and underdelivers or the irate fan who verbally berates the referees of a middle school basketball game, people who make situations more tense than they need to be aren’t hard to find. So, it’s only natural to search for ways to deal with those who are hard to deal with.

A quick Google search reveals all sorts of tips and tricks for how to deal with difficult people. Much of this advice, however, is about what to do once you’re engaging with the person, be it verbally, passive aggressively, or another way. But it can be simpler: you don’t have to engage in the first place.

How to deal with difficult people: don’t engage more than you have to

Keeping yourself from engaging with difficult people doesn’t mean ignoring them all the time. It simply means limiting the extent of your interactions to what’s absolutely necessary. Because just as parents aren’t required to discipline other people’s kids, you don’t always have to be the one who deals with a difficult person.

Unless you have some level of authority in the life of the person who is being onerous, you don’t have to be the one who sets them straight. You can listen to whatever nonsense they spew, but don’t argue back. Whenever possible, loop in someone else—someone who has more authority in the person’s life, be that a manager when at work or their best friend when at a party. 

Not engaging doesn’t mean you’re surrendering. You’re not “losing” either. You’re controlling what you can control. And while you can’t control the person who is being difficult, you can control your peace. You should control your peace. Prioritize it. After all, not every issue is on you to fix.

All in all, you don’t have to stress over how to deal with difficult people. Engage with them however you have to, but never more than you have to. Instead of trying to set them straight, go to someone who is better positioned to handle the situation and equip them with any information you have that may help them do so more effectively. After that, go about your business. Better than simply being out of your hands, the situation is in the capable hands of another.

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