It’s the holiday season and that can bring out the best — and the worst — in people. It’s a stressful time and tempers can flare. I’m not sure why, but I have never had too much angst because of difficult people. I think it’s because I don’t take things personally. If you don’t think a difficult person is deliberately doing something to you, it hurts a lot less.
I wrote about this in my book, Simply Happy, because I think it is one of the keys to being happy — we all have to deal with difficult people from time to time, and we need an easy, reliable approach. Here are three strategies that have worked for me:
When I encounter someone rude or grumpy I remind myself that he or she is not acting this way for me specifically. Maybe she hates her job, or maybe he is worried about something in his family, or maybe the customer right before me in line wasn’t nice. But I’m not important to that person. That person certainly doesn’t care enough about me to manufacture that rudeness for me.
Sometimes you’re just a convenient way for a person to express his misery. There is something called an “anger triangle,” in which someone lashes out at you because you are an easier, safer target than the person he is truly mad at.
Last year I was having trouble with a long-time business associate who was going through a divorce. One Sunday he called me at home and started screaming. My husband couldn’t believe that I calmly listened to this guy for twenty minutes, holding the phone away from my ear.
It didn’t bother me. I knew that he was in distress and I happened to be someone very important to him in a world that was falling apart. I don’t let it get to me when people are obviously reacting to their own issues. I just distance myself emotionally and analyze the situation.
2. Don’t take it personally.
If you don’t take it personally, everything becomes so much easier to handle. This happens to be the single best piece of advice I give other mothers as they navigate their children’s teen years. I remember explaining this to a mother on a chairlift one day, during the ten minutes that we spent together soaring over the ski slopes. She was so grateful. She said this changed everything for her!
It definitely worked for me. My kids’ teen years were fairly easy, but it wasn’t because they were so much better behaved than other kids. They got good grades and did sports and volunteering, but they also engaged in some normal undesirable high school behavior, usually involving beer. I never took any of it as a personal affront. The kids weren’t doing these things to me. They were just doing the normal dumb things that teenagers do.
3. Be thankful you are not that person.
One time, I stood in a conference room in front of dozens of traders at a brokerage firm while the head trader yelled at me about a stock that had gone down. I had helped his brokerage firm take that company public many months before, but I was not responsible for his firm’s decision to own the stock. He was just being a jerk and venting his frustration on me. There I was, 5’3”, being screamed at by a guy who towered over me. The whole time he was screaming at me I was thinking, “You are a sad coward. I am so glad that I am not you. I get to be me and you are stuck with being you.” That worked for me!
The fact is that getting angry is a waste of time — especially because, as you already know, it’s not about you. I don’t know its origin, but there is a great quote that goes something like this: “For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” So, this holiday season, put on your armor and let those passing shots from temporarily grumpy people bounce off you and fall to the ground. They’re not personal attacks, and there’s no reason to take them personally!
Amy Newmark is the author, editor-in-chief, and publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. Since 2008, she has published 134 new books, most of them national bestsellers in the U.S. and Canada, more than doubling the number of Chicken Soup for the Soul titles in print today.
Originally published at medium.com