Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
November 26, 2000

Dealing with difficult people is a lifelong challenge

Difficult people are everywhere. But that is really good news. It means that they are scattered; they donít all live in the same town.

Perhaps our Creator planned it this way, so that each of us must learn how to deal with troublesome people. In so doing we learn how to be patient, with others and with ourselves. It might actually be boring if every person we met was congenial.

Some people are like sandpaper. God uses them to smooth off the rough edges in our personalities. Such buffing hurts but makes us better people in the long run. Not getting our way about everything helps us mature. Good relationships require "give and take" for goodwill to exist.

A pastor friend described his church like this: "It is the home of 3,000 warm and wonderful people and 2 or 3 grouches." No doubt he was being generous in assuming there were so few grouches among 3,000 people.

But here again the grouches are spread around; they do not all belong to the same church. Most of us will admit that we have found a few in every church to which we have belonged.

Some people are proud of their grouchy spirit. They earned it by being hard to get along with and they work hard to maintain their reputation. They are intentionally disagreeable and enjoy being a fly in the soup of life. One man told me, "As long as I am on the board of this church, there will never be a unanimous vote on anything." He was true to his word.

What is the secret to dealing with difficult people? A good place to begin is to examine our own attitudes and behavior. Instead of pointing a finger at somebody else, we need to ask ourselves, "Am I a difficult person to my friends and associates?"

We may need to admit that sometimes we are cantankerous ourselves, and willing to make life difficult for others. Such self-examination is, of course, extremely difficult, for most of us have 20/20 vision when it comes to seeing the faults of others. We can easily see "the speck" in our brotherís eye but fail to see "the log" in our own.

The first step, then, toward dealing successfully with difficult people is to admit that sometimes we can be very annoying and offensive ourselves. Once we can admit that to ourselves, we can find a way to be more patient and understanding with those persons we find so disagreeable.

A helpful second step is to offer others more mercy than judgment. Harsh judgment of others always makes matters worse, while gentle mercy may open the door to a better relationship. Even if we are "right" in our assessment of another personís mistakes, we can never win another over through criticism. It only makes matters worse. Finally, we can remember that we have not been sent into the world to "straighten everyone out." Some people appear to believe that their mission in life is to stand in judgment of the flaws of other people. Thus they make themselves, and everyone around them, miserable.

Once we recuse ourselves from the judgment seat, we can look for ways to offer the difficult person our understanding and friendship. Even if our offer is refused, the rejection does not make us less of a person. Indeed it may even cause the difficult person to realize that there is a better way to live.

Then when we put our head on a pillow at night we can sleep better knowing that we did not allow the grouchy person to get under our skin and cause us to behave peevishly also. It is a lifelong challenge but if we work at it, we can improve our ability to get along peacefully with difficult people, and in the process become more fun to live with ourselves. After all, there are no rewards at the end for having been obnoxious, rigid, and inflexible. Life is meant for love.