June 29, 2016

How to Face up to Difficult People.

Miguel Discart/ Flickr
Sooner or later, we are all going to cross paths with a difficult person

In the grocery store, the mall, a park, or even at yoga classTo put it simply, my definition of a difficult person here is anyone who is reacting negatively to a given situation. They’re probably not challenging all the time, but for whatever reason the circumstances made them lose their cool. It’s usually a surprise when it happens and it’s often tough to know how to react.

There are times when I’ve had to hold myself back from lecturing someone on manners, just to bring them off the magical high horse they seem to be on and back to reality. I’m not against standing up to unruly behaviour, but sometimes it’s just not worth it. So, what’s the best way to handle it? I could give many examples but I’d like to share my latest experience and offer some inspiration to draw from.

Recently, I attended a yoga show with the opportunity to teach and assist—helping students with a hands-on approach—in classes. While I was assisting, the teacher introduced me and mentioned, “If you don’t want to be adjusted, just flip the corner of your mat so Emily knows not to offer an assist.”

After the teacher made this announcement, I noticed one person flip the corner of their mat. The class started, everything ran smoothly, until I saw someone struggling. As I watched this student move her hands uncomfortably in plank pose, fidgeting from fist, to palm, back to wrist, and changing hand placement constantly it became obvious that her wrists were in pain.

It happened to be the mat-flipper who did not want to be adjusted. I had two choices:

1. To leave her squirming with what was clearly pain or
2. Offer a brief suggestion that might render her pain-free.

Even though my assist wouldn’t be hands-on, I questioned whether she’d want my help but sided with my best judgement anyway. I decided it was more important to know that she was safe and had the tools she needed to honor her body rather than worry about my feelings of rejection.

I approached her with a warm smile to say, “if your wrists are hurting, you’re welcome to lower onto your forearms,” to which she coldly replied, “As you can see, the corner of my mat is flipped so I don’t need your help, thanks.”

Her angry tone and facial expression would’ve been enough to get the message across. When someone is being difficult the only things we have control over are our own actions or reactions. Realizing this is a huge relief since there are a lot of things we can’t do when an issue is outside of ourselves. However, there are some things we can do.

Have compassion:

First and foremost, cultivating compassion and understanding is key. Looking at why a person may be behaving this was can be a good way of connecting to the person behind the behaviour. If the person is a stranger, of course we have no idea what may be going on in their life. They might have lost their home. Maybe they’re being bullied at work, or they just went through losing a loved one.

Asking ourselves, “Why would a person act this way?” can offer a different perspective beyond the immediate situation and help us move past our knee-jerk reactions to their difficult behaviour. These feelings they are projecting could be a reaction to something deeper.

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” This quote from renowned author and speaker Wayne Dyer is extremely empowering.

It’s empowering to know that there we have a choice about how we act, or react, to anyone or anything regardless of whether they are pleasant or difficult.

I may never know if that difficult student was having a bad day, or if she was self-conscious about her practice in some way. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. I simply chose to hold space and understand that it is not my problem to bear.

In this way I also practice compassion towards myself by preventing my thoughts and emotions from being affected by other people’s junk.

Realize that it’s their issue:

My immediate reaction to the mat-flipper snapping at me was the urge to cry in front of the large group of students in front of me.

I began to question my actions and intentions. Was I coming from a place of ego by thinking that I know better? Was I being disrespectful by not giving her space?

No. I was truly looking to help this woman who was suffering. I was cautious with the words I chose while treating her with respect and kindness. I shouldn’t regret this decision, even though I felt hurt by her response. Ultimately, I felt that it was the right thing to do.

I couldn’t help her reaction. It was also not my fault that she was resistant to accepting guidance. There could be a lot of reasons for this but it all comes down to one message: it’s not my issue.

Act with absolute kindness:

It’s always surprising how a situation can be turned around with kindness. It may sound kind of cheesy, but I swear it works.

To finish off my story, I was stunned after that harsh experience but managed to pull myself together. I scanned the class and noticed the same woman had lowered onto her forearms while everyone else was still balanced on their hands. In that moment, my reaction was one of relief.

Although I never received an apology, recognition, or any sort of acknowledgement, I knew that my small suggestion may help her immensely, even beyond that one class.

There are so many other times when kindness has diffused tense circumstances. I’ve found that even saying, “I’m sorry” and taking responsibility can be very empowering. Apologising also takes the other person out of defense mode. Plus, it’s way harder for someone to be rude when they are being “killed with kindness.”

When we’re facing a difficult person, choosing to react with kindness, or not reacting at all, can be the most powerful thing we can do. Understanding that it is the other person’s issue can be a huge relief. Carrying around junk that doesn’t belong to us isn’t necessary.

Making the choice to act compassionately extends the benefits not just to the person we are dealing with, but to ourselves as well.


Author: Emily Kane

Image: Miguel Discart/ Flickr

Editors: Khara-Jade Warren; Katarina Tavčar


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