10 Strategies to Reduce Tension with Difficult People


Don’t let the past determine your future

Christmas is right around the corner and while some people can hardly wait to see their extended families, others dread having to deal with a difficult relative. Even though family dynamics are more complex than professional relationships, you can use the same approaches in both environments to reduce the tension.

It would be foolish to hope other people will change and behave the way you want them to. To have a more enjoyable experience than you did in the past, it is up to you to change the way you think and act in the presence of people who trigger you.

Here are ten strategies you can start implementing immediately to reduce tension.

1.     Be in the moment and leave the past in the past

If you start thinking about what was said and done in the past, you will reactivate negative emotions in yourself. You may get very upset before the person even arrives! Don’t get yourself all worked up thinking about something that is not even happening right now. Forget about the past and focus on today. Drop the emotional charge and begin fresh!

2.     Drop your judgement

If someone irritates you, I bet you hold all sorts of judgements about them. If you allow yourself to think critical thoughts, you will inevitably feel unpleasant emotions. However, if you decide to stop judging and let people be who they are, without trying to control them, you will feel a strong sense of relief. The less controlling you are, the happier you will be. Remember, the point here isn’t to establish who is right, but to focus on what you can do to have a nice day.

3.     Find something to appreciate in them

Instead of thinking the same old thoughts, be intentional and look for things to appreciate about the other person. Maybe their intentions are good. Perhaps they have a generous nature. They may have interesting hobbies and could engage in enjoyable conversations with you. You might learn something if you give them a chance. Deliberately look for something to appreciate and you will feel more at ease and connected.

4.     Have compassion

There are reasons why this person is difficult. The behaviors they are exhibiting come from past hurt and life experiences that they didn’t heal or overcome. You might think that they should know better but the fact is that they don’t. People do what they know. You can’t expect them to show a higher level of emotional intelligence and consciousness if they aren’t at a higher level. Show more understanding and you won’t feel as much tension.

5.     Enter their world

If they can’t even begin to understand what it is like to be you, to be highly educated, to have an important job, or to be [fill the blank whatever you are] then stop hoping that they will appreciate you fully. Meet them where they are. Enter their world, even if it is only for a few hours. Take interest in their interests. Make them feel seen and significant. It will mean a lot to them and they will drop their weapons.

6.     Direct the conversation

If someone tends to ask painful questions, judge, or make unpleasant remarks, don’t forget that you can change the topic anytime. Instead of reacting mindlessly to what is being said, ask questions. By asking questions, you get to guide where the discussion is going. You might want to think of a few topics before the meeting so that you’ll be prepared.

7.     Let go of your expectations

If you walk into the room filled with expectations, you will be disappointed. Just for one day, put your expectations aside and focus on appreciation. Appreciate every kind gesture, every pleasant word, every smile, and every possible way to connect. By shifting your focus from what is missing to what is present, you will feel much better.

8.     Rise above

If the person is passive aggressive or unpleasant in any other way, remember that you are not Pavlov’s dog. You may have been conditioned in the past to react negatively but you can choose how to respond now. You are an empowered and intelligent adult. Don’t give anyone the power to make you react in ways that are beneath you. Choose how to respond with kindness.

9.     Put things in perspective

Chances are you are attaching far too much importance to your dynamics with this difficult person. It is possible that your inability to change the other person’s behavior in the past created frustration and need to control them. So step back. Look at your life, all aspects of it, for your entire lifetime. See how insignificant this issue is! Stop being attached to things that aren’t essential and will be forgotten down the road. There is so much more for you to think about and feel!

10.  Reward yourself

If you think that implementing these strategies mean making too much effort, you won’t bother. So it is important to make it worth it in your mind so that you can commit and follow-through. Obviously, the first benefit is to prevent unnecessary conflict and to feel more in control of your emotions. If that is not enough to motivate you, decide you will give yourself a reward for changing old habits and reclaiming your personal power.

I wish you happy holidays! If you implement a few of the strategies I presented in this article, I promise, you will enjoy yourself more than you traditionally do.

If you read this article because you want to learn how to handle difficult coworkers, you can start by implementing these strategies to reduce the tension. However, reducing tension is not enough. The next step is to learn how to influence them with integrity so that you can be more effective in your position. I invite you to click here to make an appointment to speak with me about your challenges and how I can help you overcome them

About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.