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How To Deal With Difficult People

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Difficult people can be bad for your health if you let them stress you out. Mary Bolster, editor of Natural Health Magazine, has some excellent reminders to help you deal with the difficult people in your life.

STACEY: I'm Stacey Tisdale for howdini. Okay the sales clerk is snippy, the boss is grouchy, that irritating co-worker has done it again. How do you react? It's an important question for your mental health and for some answers we're joined by Mary Bolster, editor in chief of Natural Health magazine. Mary good to have you with us. Now someone that I might find annoying, you might not find annoying. How are you defining difficult people?

MARY: Well you came up with some pretty good examples in the beginning there. You know it's like an indifferent sales person: you go in there, you try to find something and nobody will help you and they seem to be willfully ignoring you. Strident, demanding bosses: I think most people find them difficult. And then you mentioned this, the co-worker. The person who just constantly get you to do his or her work. That is so annoying. But it's really anybody that gets your blood pressure higher than it should be.

STACEY: All of this reminds me of a difficult boss that I had; I always tried to clear the air, make things easy for us. But you say we shouldn't necessarily try to find common ground with these people.

MARY: I would say that's probably the wrong thing to do and may encourage the rude person's difficult behavior. Really what you want to do is remain neutral. You don't really want to create peacful ground between yourself and the negative person. You want to protect your own ground. So you don't want to get your emotions higher than they should be. You really want to stay neutral. So if for instance you normally react with anger, you want to kind of contain that anger. You want to remind yourself that this person's difficult behavior is about them, not about you. You don't take it personally and you just state the facts. You're assertive without being aggressive and that's how you get what you want from that person.

STACEY: How should we handle our emotions when we're faced with these difficult situations?

MARY: There's a couple of ways that people typically respond to difficult people. One way is to get obsessed, like oh my gosh, this person shouldn't be difficult and I'm going to change her. Well, hello, that is never going to happen. You just want to say--you've let go of that. Acknowledge that there are always going to be obnoxious, difficult people. There's two instances where you really want to kind of take stock. Another is if you act hurt when someone is difficult with you because difficult people take advantage of that kind of behavior. They think you want approval and so they'll really just kind of be--they'll really milk that need for approval. So you, again, you want to sort of just visualize yourself being indifferent towards this person. That, that you're neither--that you don't either need their approval. You don't need to angry at them, just be neutral with them and that's where you're more likely to get what you need from these people.

STACEY: It sounds like the general message is that all you can control is the way that you react to these things. You can't control outside circumstances, you can't control the people.

MARY: That's right. If you can change what's inside, the outside won't have as big an effect on you.

STACEY: You make the point that difficult people can indeed affect your health. Explain how that really happens.

MARY: Well, there's two things that happen when you're around difficult people: your blood pressure can go up and you get really high levels of stress. You know any time you know you're going to have to deal with a difficult person, say a difficult boss, you're thinking oh jeez I do not want to do this. You might overeat, you might stay up late at night thinking about the confrontation you're going to have because everything feels like a confrontation. So again, if you can bring yourself, if you can visualize it so you can get there. If you can get to that calm, centered space in yourself, every encounter with the difficult people is going to be ratcheded down so that you can remain calm. So you don't feel like your heart rate is going up, that your breathing is getting shallow and that you're sort of stressing out because stress, the cortisol hormone that gets activated when you're stressed, is so bad for your health.

STACEY: And stress is so bad for us on so many levels.

MARY: Right. Yeah, so that's one thing you constantly want to bring yourself back to. Calm center. Take your deep breath and say I'm not going to let this person get under my skin.

STACEY: Great advice, Mary Bolster, editor in chief of Natural Health magazine. Thank you so much for joining us.

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