How do you deal with difficult people? First, you take a deep look inside yourself and make sure you’re not a hypocrite. I found that I am. For example, in arguments, I am thinking about my next words. I never fully listen. The brain is a wonderful tool. The neocortex wants to process those words, to comprehend them, but I rarely give it a chance.

Conversations often escalate when I don’t slow down to listen. Simple dialogues begin to boom; frustrations bloom.

I’m reactive. I’m easily offended. My problems occur because I’m not listening. So many of my issues are my doing. In her book, How To Deal With Difficult People: Smart Tactics for Overcoming the Problem People in Your Life, careers coach and author Gill Hasson teaches about the difficulties that arise when we don’t listen.

“Often, when people talk with each other, they don’t really listen,” Hasson writes, “they make assumptions and misinterpret each other, especially if the issue is contentious or complicated.”

A lot of my problems come from misinterpretations. I assume people are out to get me. They’re not. I see non-lethal comments as DEFCON 1 events.

I bought Hasson’s book because I figured I could use some help dealing with the problematic people in my life. As usual, my hypocrisy was immense.

Those difficult people aren’t the problem. I’m surrounded by fantastic people, but so many of the issues I have with others start with me.

They’re not difficult. I am; I’m not communicating well. I’m reactive.

The basic challenge in dealing with difficult people is to remain calm in a potentially highly charged situation. You have to get your own reactivity down.

—Gill Hasson

In her book, Hasson harps on the powers of active and reflective listening. She urges readers to practice fully engaging with people’s words and then recounting them to the other person to make sure nothing is lost in translation.

The problem is, if the conversation involves even a tiny bit of controversy, I’m ready to defend and pounce. I have to rewire my brain. With every person and situation, I have to have a “beginner’s mind,”—Hasson’s way of describing how we should approach situations with a fresh mind. Rather than being reactive, I need to treat people like I have no prior knowledge of how they have been in the past.

My actions are my choice. No one can force me to do anything. Even if they are the most infuriating individual, my response is mine to make. For years, I’ve called certain people ”impossible,” and I’ve believed they caused me to act a certain way.

That’s false. If I listen, chances are the problems will subside. But no matter what, I control my actions. I’m the only behind the wheel, and it’s about time I start driving better.

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