|Dealing with Difficult People
|Is there someone in your life with whom you can't seem to get along? Perhaps it is a supervisor, coworker, or family member. Yes, it
might also be a sister or brother in Christ! The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary defines difficult as, “hard to deal with, manage,
overcome or understand.” Difficult people manifest one or more of the following behaviors:
- operate with a double agenda
- struggle with anger or depression
- have low self-esteem
- try to manipulate
- appear arrogant
- cannot tell the truth
- need to control everything
- focus solely on themselves
These behaviors generally stem from emotional or spiritual immaturity.
If you do not know anyone who exhibits at least one of these characteristics, you are the exception. Below are some things to consider
when it comes to difficult people.
- Everybody encounters one at some point.
- Everybody has the potential to become one to someone. (I’m certain God finds most of us difficult at times!)
- We cannot change them but we can learn to relate.
- We will not get along equally with everyone (some may not like us).
- We should not expect everyone to agree with, like or love us all the time.
- We must manage our expectations of others and ourselves.
- We give up too soon on some relationships.
- We get along best with others when we mature spiritually and emotionally.
So it is apparent that learning to deal with difficult people is a requirement for God’s children. As with all things pertaining to godly
living, the Bible provides guidance.
Assess your own attitude
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me
in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)
The first thing to do before confronting a difficult person is to determine if the problem is truly with that individual or an indication of
our own personal weakness. Often individuals find it difficult to get along with people who are too much like themselves. Perhaps you
like to control everything and find that you dislike others who are also controlling. Or do you dislike having to share the spotlight with
others? Perhaps you have low self-esteem and as result find yourself being very critical or mistrusting others. You also may have Type
A personality and, thus, lack patience with others because you are always in a rush.
We are warned in Matthew 7:1-2 that when we judge others we will be measured by the same standard! So before confronting a
difficult person perform a self assessment to see if you contribute to the difficulty!
If you have aptly categorized the other person as difficult, take the following actions.
Exhibit Self Control and Understanding
Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)
Some people exhibit characteristics of being difficult because they want to be heard. Everyone wants to be accepted and affirmed.
Listening is a way of letting others know that you value them enough to hear what they have to say. There is a saying, “People don’t
care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We sometimes fail to recognize the factors that can influence the
behavior of others such as abuse, neglect, shame, fear, and worry. Before assuming the offender is being intentionally difficult, give
him or her the benefit of the doubt. And If possible, try to find out if there are some underlying factors causing the offensive behavior
and become a source of encouragement.
Make allowance for another’s faults
A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression. (Proverbs 19:11)
Sometimes we Christians wear our emotions on our sleeves and are provoked much too easily. We often expect too much of others.
Before getting an attitude, consider some of your own past indiscretions and how you wanted to be treated by those whom you
Be quick to forgive
So, as those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and
patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other. Whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you,
so also should you. (Colossians 3:12-13).
Jesus is the model of forgiveness in that he died for our sins. Thus when we are tempted to not forgive another person we need to
immediately think of the example of forgiveness that Jesus set for us. Additionally, it is important to remember that forgiveness is for
the offended, not the offender. Studies have linked mental, emotional, and physical illness to unforgiveness. Refusing to forgive can
cause one to become bitter and to use poor judgment. Most damaging, it impairs one’s relationship with God. The scriptures warn that
if you fail to forgive others their trespasses God will not forgive you of yours! Matthew 6:14-15.
Practice godly communication.
The ability to communicate effectively is essential for maintaining effective interpersonal relationships. This skill is particularly important
when dealing with difficult people. Below are some characteristics of godly communication found in the scriptures.
- Edifying - Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to
the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
There is a saying, “There is something good in the worst of us.” When giving feedback practice the rule-of-thumb, emphasize
the positive before mentioning the negative.
- Truthful – These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in
your gates. Zechariah 8:16
When confronting a difficult person, do not blow the situation out of proportion by embellishing the truth. As an old TV
character, Sgt Friday, used to say, “Just the facts!”
- Gentle - A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverb 15:1, 4
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each
person. Colossians 4:6
There is an adage, “You can get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Address difficult people with words that are sweet
rather than bitter.
- Wise - There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
Take time to plan what you are going to say to the difficult person. Responding in the heat of the moment often has negative
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:28.
Jesus provides the supreme example of this when he prayed on the cross for his executors. “Father, forgive them for they know not
what they do” (1 John 1:9b). Sometimes even after you have done all that the scriptures require, the offender is still offensive. In that
instance, attack the situation with prayer and rest on God’s promise, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of
God” (Matthew 5:9).
This promise ensures peacemakers that they will be the closest to God, heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ. The peacemakers by their
spiritual feat resemble the Only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who came to earth to reconcile sinful people with Divine judgment
and to establish peace among people in place of the animosity reigning among them. Therefore, to the peacemakers is promised the
epithet, "sons of God," and inexpressible blessedness.
We Can Deal Effectively with Difficult People!
Another author wrote, “Difficult people are God’s grindstone in our lives because they serve to help us sharpen our interpersonal
skills.” I know some of you are saying to yourself, Pearl, all of this sounds fine but you don’t know the difficult people I have to deal
with! You’re right. I don’t know them. However, the apostle Paul admonishes, if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with
all men (Romans 12:17-21). And Peter says it IS possible because God has given us everything we need to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:
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