Dealing With Difficult People

anyone who works in the people business has to deal with grumpy people.

i had lunch with an HR guy last week who confessed that dealing with people all day wears him out. The beautiful one grows weary of dealing with arrogant doctors and non-compliant patients. i know that teachers are often exhausted by the end of the day, not because of the good students, but because of the difficult ones.

this morning, i had a grumpy bear experience. i received a note from someone who had some "suggestions". okay, they were unfounded criticisms... not of me, just about the nature of our church in general, and maybe directed at some individuals within our church. i always struggle with what to do when this happens.

Proverbs 26:3-5
speaks powerfully to the tension i wrestle with in these moments. do i pull out the whip and halter, or do i silently let it go?

likely, i'm not the only person who struggles with how to deal with difficult people. so this morning's reading in Psalm 37 seemed like something i should share. it's a great guide for addressing the issue of grumpy bears.

vs 1,2:

Do not fret because of evil men
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
this seems so obvious, but it's something i don't think about very often. Verse two really becomes a theme of the psalm as he repeats it's truth in verses 10, 20, & 36. He uses other pictures to demonstrate the temporal nature of the wicked's reign. he refers to them as the "beauty of the fields" (which disappears every autumn), "smoke" (which vanishes quickly), and "a green tree" (which gets cut down). of course the point of all this is to encourage the righteous to take a longer view.

Matthew 5:5 says:
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
I've always found meekness to be one of the tougher Biblical virtues to define. In our "warrior" culture it is difficult to separate the concept of "meek" from the concept of "weak". I know that often the mental picture I have of a meek person includes a pocket protector and glasses with tape on the bridge.

however, reading a similar expression in Psalm 37:11 puts this concept into a new context for me:
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy great peace.
meekness is "taking a longer view". it is remembering the wicked will soon wither away.
it is choosing to "wait on the LORD"(Pr.20:22) rather than "draw the sword and bend the bow"(Ps.37:14).

not too long ago i passed on some advice to a friend who was struggling with a "difficult person". i told him (as others have told me) "keep giving him rope". i don't know where that expression comes from, maybe cowboys or fishing? but the idea in my mind was "people given enough rope usually hang themselves". this is probably a much more crude and human translation of psalm 37, however, it is good advice that i need to hear more often.

take the long view.

the fantastic thing about Psalm 37 is that it doesn't just leave us to figure out meekness/longviewing on our own. Verses 3-8 provide a checklist of sorts for those of seeking to build ourselves up in these areas.

while you wait on the LORD and take the long view, here's what you should be doing:
  • Trust in the LORD and do good
  • Dwell in the land
  • Delight yourself in the LORD
  • Commit your way to the LORD
  • Be still before the LORD
  • Wait patiently for Him
  • Do not fret
  • Refrain from anger
  • Turn from wrath
So... how do you deal with difficult people? Focus on the long term, focus on doing right yourself, but above all focus on God...


rick said…
I kind of like how I'm dealing with one of the newer difficult people in my life. My wife and I are using a three-pronged approach with this lady.

In our group meeting when she acts out, I simply cut her off with "that's inaccurate", "that's one perspective", "that's not relevant to the point", etc..

I then use email to challenge her with little thoughts her and there. I rarely reply back when she replies with all of the excuses, accuses me of being judgmental, etc..

Finally, we ask her to hang out a lot. We went for bike rides, dinner, watched TV, went to a movie, etc.. In those settings I never initiate anything and I rarely confront her. I just give her space to do whatever. Sometimes she doesn't bring up the obvious issues and neither do we. We just share our life with her. Other time she talks about her pains, justifies why she is as she is, etc. and we just listen. I think she understands that we care about her and because of this I can get away with cutting her off in group and challenging her from time to time.