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Skills for Teens: How to Deal with Difficult People

As teens mature into adults, they need to learn how to deal with difficult people on their own. Whether it’s a demanding teacher, coach, or boss, difficult people are simply a fact of life. And we can teach our children that enflaming a tough situation is often not the best approach. Here are some suggestions that can deescalate difficult encounters with adults.

8 Suggestions for Dealing With Difficult People:

1. Stay calm

When you feel yourself starting to get irritated by someone, slow your breathing. Take several deep breaths in and exhale slowly. This can measurably lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

2. Be respectful

No matter how a person is treating you, being rude or contemptuous will not help resolve the situation—and could escalate it. Acting polite and respectful goes a long way. Follow the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

3. Listen

Listening is the most important step in dealing with unreasonable people. Everyone wants to feel heard and acknowledged. Focus on what the other person is saying, not what you want to say next. Try to appreciate their point of view. What is making them uncooperative or angry? Is there anything you can do to meet their needs to resolve the situation?

4. Look for help

Look around to see if someone is close by who might be able to help. If you’re at work and there’s an irate customer, quickly scan to see if a colleague is close by.

5. Let the other person be right

This one is hard. No one likes to be wrong. But if you can let go of the need to be right, that person may be less defensive or difficult. Repeat back the points you think a person is making, and acknowledge the emotions they seem to be expressing. Say, “Tell me more so I can understand better.” Avoid smiling, as this may look like you are mocking the person.

6. Don’t be defensive

It’s normal to want to defend yourself. But if the other person is emotional or confrontational, being defensive won’t help. Another person’s emotions may not even be about you, so don’t take it personally. Raising your voice, pointing your finger, or getting angry will add fuel to the fire. Use a low, calm voice. Don’t talk over the person. Wait until the person takes a breath, and then speak.

7. Defuse the situation with “I’m sorry”

Apologizing or saying “I’m going to try to fix this” can go a long way towards defusing many difficult situations. When apologizing, avoid saying, “I’m sorry if you felt upset by this,” which can suggest that the other person was overly sensitive. Instead, apologies should focus on your own actions.

8. Tell someone else

After the situation is over, talk to someone about what happened. Dealing with jerks can be upsetting. Talking about it with a third party can help you get rid of any stress you are feeling.

Jane Parent, former editor at Your Teen, is the parent of three.

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