Part 1 of a Series: Dealing with Difficult People

If there’s anything predictable in life, this is one: you can’t avoid Difficult People! Learn How to Keep Your Cool with Angry People based on God’s Truth.

Whether you are leading a church meeting or attending one, you’ve probably encountered people who get under your skin. They push buttons your didn’t even know you had.

Just thinking about a certain person makes your heart race and your muscles tighten.

HOW TO WORK BETTER WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE (EVEN AT CHURCH)

We all need to learn how to work better with difficult people – without losing our cool. As I tell my kids, “You will always have people in your life you don’t want to work with or even be around, so you may as well learn to deal with it now.”

In fact, if there’s anything predictable in life (including life in the church), this is one of them. You can’t avoid Angry People. Strange people. Difficult people. Annoying people.

  • If there are people in your church who just make you cringe
  • If you dread going to a meeting because THAT person is going to be there
  • If you’ve considered leaving a ministry you love because so-and-so drives you crazy

… Then, this post is for you!

The truth is, we all need skills to Keep Our Cool when Someone Around Us is Seeing Red!

KEEPING YOUR COOL AND TEAM BUILDING

If you are working with a team, you absolutely have to practice Keeping Your Cool.

The Church is Full of Dysfunctional People

As my pastor-husband preaches, “What do you call an angry person who becomes a Christian? An angry Christian.” Just because we are trying to follow Christ doesn’t mean we rid ourselves of all bad behavior and life-ingrained patterns. At least not instantly.

Your Response Affects Everyone Around You

It doesn’t matter if you are leading a ministry or you are an occasional team member, your response to Difficult People affects everyone around you. You are an influence.

Your behavior impacts your environment. You can help transform a spiraling meeting into a positive field of daisies. Or you can help sink it deep into a pit of brooding.

So what gets your blood boiling?

  • Tenacious Talker who never slows down to breathe – or to listen?
  • Negative Nelly who works to drag you down into her half-empty glass?
  • Look-at-Me Lucy who can’t see beyond her own needs and issues?
  • Nagging Nitpicker who fixates on insignificant details and can’t look to the bigger vision?
  • Sour Spewer who spits out anger through heated words or indignant glances?

The Dealing with Difficult People Series will help lessen the influence these Difficult People have on your emotions.

By practicing what you learn, you will …

  • experience more peace & calm
  • enjoy serving more
  • and be more effective in ministry

Through this series we will explore 3 Principles for Keeping Your Cool. Today we will tackle the first one.

3 PRINCIPLES FOR DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE

  1. Align your Beliefs with God’s Truths
  2. Turn Fight or Flight into Grounded & Surrounded
  3. How to Rise Above the Storm of Toxic People

As these 3 Principles become habit, you will respond to Tenacious Talker and Look-at-Me Lucy with more Grace-Filled Patience. You’ll develop Healthier Boundaries with Sour Spewer and Negative Nelly. And you’ll learn to Turn the Tide to Positivity with Nagging Nitpicker!

All the while, you become more Christ-like. Growing in love for His Creation. Deepening your understanding of your own responses. And expanding your awe for the Creator Himself.

CLARIFYING THE WORD ‘ANGRY

Some of us might not think we experience anger, and may label our negative feelings as frustration or annoyance. In this series about Keeping Your Cool, I use “ANGRY” to describe negative emotion in a general sense. Whether exuded by Difficult People, or experienced by you as you deal with Difficult People.

IF YOU DON’T RELATE TO THE WORD ‘ANGRY’, PLEASE GRAB A NEW WORD!

Feel free to substitute any of the following for ‘angry’: Resentful. Impatient. Irritated. Shut down. Cranky. Crabby. Annoyed. Offended. Frustrated. Bothered. Etc.

For brevity and readability, I just chose one word that many people relate to.

If your heart beats faster, if your muscles tighten, if your emotions heighten –  that’s what I’m talking about. It all counts.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SELF-CONTROL and KEEPING YOUR COOL

Our insides want to match our outsides.

Keeping Your Cool is Not About Eliminating the Feeling of Anger

And it’s also not JUST about controlling your temper.

It’s about actually experiencing calm in the storm. Embracing God’s peace in recognition of His Sovereignty and Omnipresence. It’s about putting space between the situation and your reaction.

Doesn’t that sound great?

Keeping Your Cool doesn’t mean you don’t feel an emotion, but you may experience it differently. For many of us, the intensity and frequency of emotion change greatly as our perspective and beliefs change.

Anger is Not a Bad Emotion

We all experience anger. And we should. It is a human emotion.

There are benefits to anger.

Some anger can be good for you.

It can even save your life. Anger, at times, can help get your needs met. It may wake you up to new boundaries you need to set. Anger might motivate you accomplish a great challenge.

However, most anger and frustration we experience today isn’t saving our lives from a hungry lion or motivating us to noble things.

More often than not it is Disproportionate. Unneeded. Avoidable. Unhealthy. Displaced, Extreme. Projected. Unproductive. And Dysfunctional.

So, as people who love Jesus and want to walk in His ways, let’s get healthier.

Self-Control, By Itself, Can Damage Your Physical and Emotional Health

Unexpressed anger has been linked to sleep disorders, anxiety, headaches, depression, stroke, heart attacks and more.

Some people are very skilled at looking cool and calm on the outside, but inside they are Fuming. Or Cringing. Or Crying. Or Shutting Down.

You may be one of these people.

Keeping anger inside isn’t good for you.

Self-Control is a way to control your behavior. But simply masking negative feelings doesn’t change what’s going on inside your heart and your spirit.

As destructive as losing your temper can be, Self-Control without Internal Change is extremely damaging to your health, your relationships, and your walk with God.

Simply said, your inside wants to match your outside.

So, as we talk about Keeping Your Cool, this isn’t your typical “5 steps to Staying Calm by Counting to 10” and other quick fixes. We can’t walk in His love without delving deeper.

If we are living as God desires,

  • Our insides match our outsides
  • Our behavior reflects our emotions; it doesn’t mask them
  • Our actions express our values and our beliefs

IT WILL NOT ALWAYS BE THIS HARD

When it seems impossible to be around irritating people who push every button you have, revisit the 3 Principles in this series: 1) Align your Beliefs with God’s Truths. 2) Turn Fight or Flight into Grounded & Surrounded. 3) Rise Above the Storm of Toxic People with Healthy Habits.

Practice the tools here and find others that work for you.

The more you practice, the more you develop habit.

Habits Result in New Responses

These new habits become easy and natural. It’s the evidence of transformation. It’s when you have BECOME the person you have chosen to be.

It will not always be so difficult, because these tools are about Growing in the Grace of God. No manipulation. No educational degree or special talents needed. Just some space, understanding, and practice.

So, when I have to (occasionally) deal with difficult people, here’s what helps me :

PRINCIPLE #1: ALIGN YOUR BELIEFS WITH GOD’S TRUTH

God’s Perspective on Humanity

It’s very difficult to be crazy irritated with someone you respect and honor. And, God’s Creation should be respected and honored.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”

Remind Yourself of the Value of God’s Creation

God ascribes incredible worth to His creation. He demonstrates great love and grace for every man and every woman. (2 Peter 3:9)

While Psalm 139:14 is often used as a self-esteem reminder, let’s broaden it a bit. Years ago, I was challenged at a retreat to rewrite this passage with my name inserted in it.

Instead, I ask you to read this with your most Difficult Person’s Name inserted:

For God created [that irritating person’s] inmost being;

God knit [her] together in her mother’s womb.

I praise you because [she] is fearfully and wonderfully made;

God’s works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

People’s Angry Behaviors are More About Them than About You

  • Critical Comments
  • Negative Perspectives
  • Angry Outbursts

What people feel and believe about themselves and others oozes out. (Luke 6:45)

This truth helps me develop more compassion.

Consider the ‘whys’ for the behavior of others.

What could have possibly made this person hold so much anger? What needs are unfulfilled that this person can’t stop dwelling on her own pain?

You may have heard the phrase “Hurt People Hurt Others.”

Ponder that truth.

For a Dose of Humility, Remind Yourself You’re Not Really that Great Either

I remind myself, “Every person I meet doesn’t like me either. I am just like that Difficult Person to someone else. And I’m grateful for the grace shown to me.”

Yes, we are both still fearfully and wonderfully made. But we both still fall far short. (Romans 3:23)

When I know ahead of time I am going to be interacting with one of my Difficult People, I remind myself of these truths.

GOD UNDERSTANDS OUR IRRITATION AND STILL EXPECTS GENTLENESS

Enlarge the Context of Philippians 4:6-7

Philippians 4:6-7 is often quoted as the anti-worry verse. Do not be anxious. Present your requests to God with prayer and supplication. And the peace of God transcends all.

But there is more in the context. Jump just one verse ahead and Verse 5 says,

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

Philippians 4:5

DO YOU SEE A LARGER CONTEXT THAN JUST RANDOM WORRY? WHY ARE THESE VERSES GROUPED TOGETHER?

Paul is reminding people to be GENTLE.

Gentle in the way they deal with people. He is not talking about cooking with egg yolks or cradling a baby. He is talking about church life.

WHY WOULD WE NEED TO BE REMINDED TO BE GENTLE?

Because we are in situations where gentleness is not our natural response. We are irritated.

AND WHAT IS SO IRRITATING?

Difficult People.

WHAT MAKES IT EVEN POSSIBLE TO BE GENTLE WHEN OUR HEARTS RACE AND MUSCLES TIGHTEN?

Scripture answers this too:

Because THE LORD is near.

God is Sovereign. He has our back. He is aware. He has created every person at the table. He is love.

SO, LET YOUR GENTLENESS BE EVIDENT TO ALL. THE LORD IS NEAR. DON’T BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING, INCLUDING THIS DIFFICULT PERSON.

Keep Your Cool, because a Great Big God’s Got This.

DOES THAT SHIFT THE CONTEXT OF PHILIPPIANS 4 A LITTLE BIT?

Use Philippians 4 as a Go-To in Difficult People Situations

We have just dipped our toes into a deep pool of God’s Truth and God’s Perspective. It’s a great place to start!

That wraps up Principle 1 of Keeping Your Cool: Align Your Beliefs with God’s Truth.

To get the most out of this series, put into practice what you have learned.

  • Meditate on Philippians 4.
  • Ask God to search your heart, reveal truth, and change you.
  • Reflect on other scriptures mentioned.
  • Spend time in regular prayer and meditation.

And the next time you face a difficult person, remind yourself of God’s Truth and God’s Perspective.

Check out Part 2 of the Dealing with Difficult People Series: TURN FIGHT OR FLIGHT INTO GROUNDED & SURROUNDED.

  • You’ll learn how Fight or Flight actually shuts off the Rational Thinking Brain
  • How to recognize Fight or Flight Mode in yourself and others
  • Why Grounded & Surrounded is God’s plan instead!

FOR MORE MINISTRY ENCOURAGEMENT, CHECK OUT:

THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE FOR WORKING WITH VOLUNTEERS

GOD SEES YOU: Find Peace and Fulfillment by Doing Less, Not More