Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to Deal with Toxic People

People have called me an “angel” so many times that I had it tattooed on my ankle. I´m mostly a nice and gentle person, diplomatic although not always politically correct and I mind my manners. A saint, however, I am not. There are still a handful of people in this world who have the ability to push my buttons and then I become a she-devil. Over the years I have learned to tame the fire I sometimes feel rising in my throat when rubbed the wrong way or viciously annoyed by a certain person. I don´t act upon it usually, but I also don´t win over my animal instincts every time. If I do lash out, despite my better judgment, I´ve learned to make amends or at least apologize.

Following are some thoughts about dealing with toxic people. They are by no means absolute, and while they work for me, you may have your own, which I hope you will share too with a comment on this post.

- Sometimes it´s a matter of chemistry. We all have people we simply do not feel good with or who bring out the worst in us, and when I sense that kind of energy around someone (which tends to be mutual) I avoid the person if possible. Unfortunately two of these people at a certain point were in my extended family. I had to learn self-control, and then find ways to replenish my energy after I had been in their presence. Avoiding head-on arguments at all costs with toxic in-laws, step-parents or a boss while being assertive and graceful is no easy feat but it is possible.

- When someone I have a casual interaction with seems to be nasty for no apparent reason, I wonder if they had a bad day. If I don´t know the person, I breathe deeply instead of bickering and smile and offer a kind comment. This has resulted in the person smiling back and improving their attitude.

- If the difficult person is a client and the reason is I made a mistake, I do not get defensive, which is usually counterproductive, and I correct the mistake. We are all human and we all err. People usually relate to that if you are humble. If the client is a nasty person per se then I will not work with him or her again, but there will be no harsh parting on my side.

- I ask myself often: “Do I want to be right or happy?” Life is too short to spend it arguing over trivialities. Some people, however, do trigger that fight or flight response in me, while others bring out the best. We all have a dark side, but thankfully it just takes one ray of light to dispel the darkness. The most important thing is to be aware of it. Self-knowledge is power.

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