By Dr. Harold Sala
At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. Acts 24:26
When you have a difficult person in your life—and who doesn’t?—you have four basic options—much the same as how you would deal with a pair of shoes that hurt your feet because a nail has worked its way through the sole. You can walk away from him, ignore the pain—perhaps getting calloused to his difficult personality. Put some space between you and him (which allows you to live with the situation, or respond to the difficult person) which allows you to cope. Usually this is the most positive and most satisfactory course of action when a difficult person really begins to get to you.
Four steps lead to resolutions, and some of them are so obvious that you say, “Yes, I already know this!” but when the adrenalin begins to pump and your hands perspire and your blood pressure soars, you often jump or react–proving to the world that you have the capability of being just as difficult as the difficult person in your life.
Guideline #1 in coping with the difficult person is “strive to understand what makes him difficult.” Why are people difficult? There are many reasons. Some are under tremendous personal pressures you know nothing about. A marriage is going sour. A child is sick. A boyfriend has just taken a hike. Your boss has just miscarried for the second time. Some people are emotional cripples, wounded from childhood, scarred with memories and burned by others. The person who appears to be very difficult really isn’t that difficult but he appears to be a real pain in the neck.
Dr. Karl Meninger, the common-sense psychiatrist, used the illustration of a fish that had swallowed a hook which a fisherman was reeling in. When the fisherman starts to crank the line, the fish flops around in the water. Other fish look at the gyrations of the fellow-fish and say, “He sure swims crazy; something is the matter with him for sure!” But they can’t see the invisible line which is getting tighter and tighter.
Getting to know the difficult person often eliminates the barrier between you. Have a cup of coffee together. Do something nice for the difficult person. Ask yourself, “Is this person difficult simply because he is responding to me as a difficult person as well?”
When one employee was having lunch the subject of a difficult supervisor came up, and after pausing, wondering whether or not to say something, one woman said, “Do you know what she’s going through?” “No,” replied the man who had been grumbling. She told him. Her mother had just died. She had been diagnosed with cancer, and her husband had left her. After a few moments of silence, the one who initiated the conversation said, “If I were in her shoes, I’d probably be difficult as well.”
Some people who appear to be difficult—let’s face it!–are difficult. They are different. Whether they were born that way or raised by dysfunctional parents, wounded by life, just plain evil, or struggling with a massive inferiority complex which makes them overcompensate by showing you who is boss, they are going to be difficult no matter what you do.
Guideline #2 in dealing with the difficult person is to pray for the difficult person and about your relationship with that person. You are going to have to deal with the situation, so you say, “Lord, this person is really getting to me; I need to know how to respond to this individual. I not only want You to change the difficult person in my life but change me, too, Lord.” And when you have really made the situation a matter of prayer, you are ready for the next step—your response to the difficult person.
Resource reading: Acts 24.