You’re Not the Boss of Me! Dealing with Difficult People

I had sent this article on dealing with difficult people to my newsletter subscribers back in 2011. Aside from the book reference below, it is surprisingly current. Hope you agree.

dealing with difficult people

With Thanksgiving and other winter holidays approaching and social gatherings increasing, many of us have begun to anticipate and worry about upcoming interactions with bossy family members and acquaintances. Instead of feeling the season’s gratitude and joy, we sometimes feel resentment at having to travel distances only to be hassled once we arrive at our destination. Or we feel burdened by having to host annoying people in our own homes.

Of course, our interactions with bossy people don’t only happen at this time of year; they occur year ‘round. And, mothers in particular seem to be easy targets for the bossy types who love to inform us how parenting “should” be done.

We all have the potential to be bossy and act so more often than we like to admit. I’m sure my husband, younger brother, daughters and friends would happily give you an earful about just how bossy I can be! Some people are not chronically bossy but can act that way when discussing certain topics or in certain situations.

Unfortunately, however, some people in our lives are persistently bossy. I secretly call these individuals “Bossypants.” (By the way, the book by the same name by Tina Fey is absolutely hilarious; I highly recommend it even though it is irrelevant to this article.) Interactions with Bossypants can often have lasting, sometimes haunting, effects. Moreover, the dread of future encounters with these types can cause stress. This is understandable, given that interactions with Bossypants can make us feel hurt, angry, annoyed, or any combination of the three.

So how do we cope? The following two-step strategy is one that’s been helpful to me and my clients:

STEP 1: UNDERSTAND WHERE THE BOSSINESS COMES FROM. When people are bossy, it usually has less to do with you and more to do with them. It could be that Bossypants feel …

  • Small, and therefore they want to cut others down to their size,
  • Invisible, and therefore they want to be acknowledged or recognized, or
  • Ashamed or insecure about an aspect of their own lives, and therefore they want to claim something is wrong in others’ lives

Bossypants may not be aware of what they are feeling deep down. They may believe their intentions are good and that they are being helpful. But, the bossiness doesn’t feel good to us.

STEP 2: SEPARATE WHAT YOU WANT TO KEEP FROM WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO LET GO. Consider the “advice” you are given, keeping what’s helpful and forgetting the rest.

Sometimes Bossypants do provide bits of information that are helpful or at least worth considering. So as best you can, examine rationally what might be useful to you. But for the aspects that are hurtful, maddening, or annoying, recognize them as such and then do what you can to let them go. It’s very difficult (perhaps nearly impossible) to change Bossypants’ ways, but we can change our reactions to them.

The saying from Buddha is helpful here: “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Don’t give Bossypants the power to burn you. Don’t let them be the boss of you!

Happy Thanksgiving!


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