We all know at least one truly difficult person in our lives (or perhaps more)—the one who leaves a train wreck in his or her wake more often than not, saunters on, leaving those around them to deal with the mayhem and/or to clean up the mess. They are the drama kings and queens of this world. I know we can all behave as difficult people sometimes; but I’m talking about those people who make it their life goal to be truly difficult, no matter what the situation. They are defiant in situations where defiance is not called for, rude or aggressive in situations where rudeness or aggression are unnecessary, and demanding and selfish in situations where to give in and to be unselfish might have been the better path. Advice is wasted on them. They do what they want, when they want. They are nearly impossible to deal with. Nothing is ever good enough for them; they are chronic complainers. They voice their opinion about everything, usually at a decibel level that drowns out other voices. They always want more, or want what the others have. Envy seems to be a big part of who they are, as well as a huge ego and a lot of self-confidence. They are somehow so special that they take offense if the world around them does not notice them and pay attention to them all the time. They’re not good at sharing the spotlight with others, or giving up the spotlight when it’s time for someone else (often younger) to step into it. They need to be the centers of attention no matter what. I believe too that they need to feel slighted in order to exist. They live their lives in fighting mode. The words compromise and listening are part of a foreign language to them.
I grew up with the false notion that difficult people were somehow more creative or gifted than non-difficult people, thus it might be worth my while to try to be more understanding of them. I don’t know where I got that idea from, perhaps from the society around me at that time that worshipped all things counter-cultural. Of course, when I was younger, it would have been difficult or nearly impossible to discover that non-difficult people were creative or gifted, because they were simply overshadowed by their difficult counterparts. So I used a lot of energy in my younger years trying to understand difficult people. Because of my understanding nature and ability to listen well, I attracted my share of them. Along the way however, I also attracted my share of non-difficult people. And it is the latter I prefer to be together with now. It is the latter who have enriched my life and inspired me. I suppose I could add that truly difficult people have inspired me as well—to not be like them.
I have learned a lot from non-difficult people. I have learned the value of compromise, of calmness in communication with others, of keeping an even tone when talking, of not flying off the handle when confronted with truly difficult people. Non-difficult people teach you from a very young age how to fit into society and how to be a valuable member of it. They teach you the value of contributing to society. That’s important because the truly difficult people are often the ones who want to dismantle the society they live in because they just know they’d be the better leaders or have the better solutions. But all they do is mostly complain rather than act. Most of the non-difficult people I admire have learned how to deal with the truly difficult people they know. Not always of course. But they have over the course of a lifetime learned to stand up for themselves in an assertive way, without clobbering or destroying the truly difficult person. They limit their interactions with them, they listen but have clear boundaries as to how much they will listen to. They have learned the art of placation, which is to say they do not hand their power over to the truly difficult people (placation is not loss of power and can often be a tactic that infuriates truly difficult people). They ignore them when necessary, deflect them when necessary—all done in a kind way. Their kindness is not weakness; it is in fact an extraordinary strength. They have a strength of character and an inner calm that inspires me. And I’ve discovered that many of them are very creative and gifted people, because I turn my head away now from those people who shout the loudest, and instead focus on those who do not. I find the latter more interesting, both in workplace situations and outside of them.