Toxic people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons. Either way, they create unnecessary drama, strife, and worst of all stress, which has proven to be harmful for your health.
The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people and discovered that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain in control. One of their greatest gifts is the ability to neutralize toxic people. They employ well-honed coping strategies that enable them to control what they can, and eliminate the rest. Here are 12 ways that successful people deal with toxic people:
1) They Set Limits (Especially with Complainers)
Complainers and negative people are bad news because they wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions. They want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. People often feel pressure to listen to complainers because they don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a difference between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into their negative emotional spiral.
2) They Don’t Die in the Fight
Successful people know how important it is to live to fight another day, especially when your foe is a toxic individual. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged. When you read and respond to your emotions, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.
3) They Rise Above
Toxic people drive you crazy because their behavior is so irrational. The more irrational and off-base someone is, the easier it should be for you to remove yourself from their traps. Quit trying to beat them in an argument. Distance yourself from them emotionally and approach your interactions like they’re a science project (or you’re their therapist, if you prefer the analogy). Rather than responding to the emotional chaos—focus only on the facts.
Think of it this way—if a mentally unstable person approaches you on the street and tells you he’s John F. Kennedy, you’re unlikely to set him straight. When you find yourself with a coworker who is engaged in similarly derailed thinking, sometimes it’s best to just smile and nod.
Maintaining an emotional distance requires awareness. You can’t stop someone from pushing your buttons if you don’t recognize when it’s happening. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in situations where you’ll need to regroup and choose the best way forward. This is fine and you shouldn’t be afraid to buy yourself some time by saying, “Let me get back to you on that.” Sometimes it’s best to give yourself some time to plan the best move.
5) They Establish Boundaries
This is the area where most people tend to sell themselves short. They feel like because they work or live with someone, they have to engage. Once you’ve found your way to Rise Above a person, you’ll begin to find their behavior more predictable and easier to understand. This will equip you to think rationally about when and where you have to put up with them and when you don’t. For example, even if you work with someone closely on a project team, that doesn’t mean that you need to have the same level of one-on-one interaction with them that you have with other team members.
You can establish a boundary, but you’ll have to do so consciously and proactively. If you let things happen naturally, you are bound to find yourself constantly embroiled in difficult conversations. The trick is to stick to your boundaries when the person tries to encroach upon them, which they will.
When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something that they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or negative remarks take that away from them.
While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what toxic people say, your self-worth comes from within. One thing is certain—you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.
7) They Don’t Focus on the Problem—Only Solutions
Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress. When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and reduces stress. Quit thinking about how troubling your difficult person is, and focus instead on how you’re going to go about handling them. This puts you in control, and reduces the amount of stress you experience when interacting with them.
Emotionally intelligent people are quick to forgive, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always give a wrongdoer another chance. Forgiveness requires letting go of what’s happened so that you can move on. Successful people are unwilling to be bogged down unnecessarily by others’ mistakes, so they let them go quickly and are assertive in protecting themselves from future harm.
9) They Squash Negative Self-Talk
Sometimes you absorb the negativity of other people. There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about how someone is treating you, but focusing on it is self-defeating. It sends you into a downward emotional spiral that is difficult to pull out of.
10) They Limit Their Caffeine Intake
Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re surprised in the hallway by an angry coworker.
I can’t say enough about the importance of a good night’s sleep in making you more positive, creative, and proactive in your approach to toxic people. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them, so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory will suffer when you don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress levels on its own, even without a stressor present.
12) They Use Their Support System
Don’t attempt to tackle everything by yourself. Get help dealing with a challenging person by tapping into your support system to gain new perspective. Everyone has someone at work or in their life who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them make the best of a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as explaining the situation can lead to a new perspective. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation.
Thankfully, the plasticity of the brain allows it to mold and change as you practice new behaviors, even when you fail. Implementing these 12 techniques for dealing with difficult people will train your brain to handle stress more effectively and decrease the likelihood of ill effects.
Dr. Travis Bradberry, Ph.D. is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests, emotional intelligence training, and emotional intelligence certification, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.
Photo (top) by Ed Yourdon, CC license