4 Tips to Establish Healthy Boundaries With Difficult People

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Difficult People Can Be Useful

Difficult people are frustrating to be around but they can be useful. "Useful, you say? Useful like a punching bag or throwing a stress ball at?" No, no, no. Even though they might deserve it, you must be the bigger person. 

Actually, difficult people help you identify your core values which helps you define healthy boundaries which helps you manage stress. 

Difficult people are usually the ones with the problem because of their own insecurity. They can be closed-minded, manipulative, follow a double-standard, entitled, never apologize, blame others and most importantly, hide their insecurity by projecting onto you.

Your difficult person will likely have the opposite core values as you which is why you find them difficult to be around. If you missed last week's blog on identifying your core values, you can click here.

So What Do You Do With Difficult People?

The ideal way to deal with difficult people is to avoid them altogether. But what if you can't? What if it's your boss or a co-worker you have to work with on a regular basis and you don't want to find another job? What if it's a close family member you have to interact with at family gatherings? What if it's your best friend?

Well, it's time to get your core values list out and establish healthy boundaries with your difficult people. While you're working on it, you can tape a picture of your difficult person on a wall and throw your stress ball at it. See, compromise can be a good thing sometimes.


4 Tips to Establish Healthy Boundaries with Difficult People

Healthy boundaries define who you are and how you look at yourself. They define how you want to be treated and how you treat others. Your core values should match your actions. Do they?

Difficult people don't like boundaries because it takes their control away. Therefore, you need to communicate clearly the facts of your boundaries and keep emotions out of it.

1. Decide whether a boundary can be negotiated. Identify which boundaries are important and non-negotiable and which ones you are willing to compromise for a win/win outcome. For boundaries you are willing to compromise on, set up a consequence if the agreed terms are broken.

Example: You and a co-worker carpool to work but she's continually late and always has an excuse. She apologizes and promises to be on time but can't keep her promise. It's time to set a healthy boundary.

You let her know that you enjoy carpooling with her because of the camaraderie and cost savings but your boss requires you to be on time to work every day. Your co-worker's tardiness prevents you from meeting your boss' expectations of you.

Therefore, the weeks you drive, you will pick her up each morning at 7: 20 am to get to work by 8 am. If she's not in the car by 7:25 am then you are leaving without her and she can drive herself. On the weeks she drives, if she is not in your driveway by 7:25 am then you will drive yourself to work. Your co-worker gets to choose her actions and you get to work on time.

2. Write down what you consider a boundary violation and your response. Start with your non-negotiable boundaries first. Writing down your response to a boundary violation helps clarify your reasoning and to identify any loopholes.

Some difficult people like to use semantics as a reason to manipulate your boundaries. Make sure you are clear and state facts about why they violated your boundary. Remember to keep emotions out and stick to the facts.

Example: One of your non-negotiable boundaries is lying.  Your family member likes to stir the pot when drama is lacking in their life.  This family member is also known for not telling the whole truth which has gotten you in trouble when you have defended this family member in the past.

This family member tells you that another family member has done them wrong. However, the behavior described does not match the character of the other family member. You tell the manipulative family member that this issue does not involve you and you do not want to hear anymore. If this family member presses for your involvement, clearly state you do not like being lied to and they have lied to you in the past. Therefore, the issue needs to be resolved by the two family members only.

3. Avoid being in the same area if you cannot avoid the difficult person completely. This can be done without being obvious, the larger the gathering. If you're talking with a group and the difficult person walks up and takes over the conversation, politely and quietly excuse yourself and go to the restroom or get a drink or snack and go find another conversation to join. Don't talk about the difficult person, let them shine on their own.

If the difficult person will be in a meeting with you and you must attend, try to sit on the same side of the table so you don't have to look at them. Also, don't roll your eyes when if they talk. Again, let them shine on their own.

4. Document conversations in email, text, or with other people involved in the same conversation. Difficult people can manipulate the facts. Document, document, and document. Use email or text to clarify conversations with them to "make sure you understood correctly" and copy everyone involved in the conversation in case they need to add anything. This is also a great way to follow up with people who are assigned tasks.

Accountability is kryptonite to difficult people who take pleasure in manipulation. Always try to deal with facts, not emotion. If the difficult person can get under your skin and get you upset, they've won because now you look like the difficult person. Don't play their game. Again, let them shine on their own.

Now It's Your Turn

Now that we've discussed core values, difficult people, and setting healthy boundaries, what action-step will you take today to set healthy boundaries with your difficult people?




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