How to Handle Difficult People During the Holidays

Alright, friends. It’s about to get real on the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast this week because we are diving headfirst into challenging relationships and difficult people.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had several requests from you incredible listeners about how to handle difficult relationships in your life.

And frankly, I can’t say I’m surprised about the increased interest in this topic. With Thanksgiving happening this Thursday in the United States, many of us have family and relatives on the mind a bit more than usual.

Plus, a lot of us think of Thanksgiving as the start of the holiday season, and during this season, we’re often surrounded by lots of different people for holiday parties, special dinners, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, etc.

Now, it’s true that the holiday season is technically the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Nevertheless, these six weeks can also churn up a lot of contrasting emotions for people.

And I’m not just talking about contrasting emotions between different people. I’m also talking about all of the contrasting emotions we experience ourselves about the holiday season.

Now, if you are reading this post a while after it’s been released, and it’s no longer the holiday season, I encourage you to still check out this episode.

Why?

Because no matter the time of year, we often run into people who have contrasting personalities or opinions from our own. And I’m telling you, having these tools to help you maneuver “challenging relationships” or “difficult people,” is beneficial at any time of the year.

I promise.

So if you’re ready to learn my top strategies to handle difficult relationships, then be sure to listen to this week’s podcast. I think you’re going to love it!

Prefer to read? No problem! You’ll find the entire transcript below this post. 🙌

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE!

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL DISCOVER…

  • The power of looking inward to strengthen relationships.
  • Tools to maneuver difficult conversations.
  • My top strategies to genuinely enjoy any situation, even with “difficult people” around.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

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QUESTION: 

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? Do you plan a lot of holiday parties between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? Have you started your holiday shopping yet? Let me know below!

Transcript: How to Handle Difficult People During the Holidays

You’re listening to that I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson episode number 18.

Hello friends! How are things going for you today? Are you excited to talk about difficult people?

I actually had a different topic planned for today. I was ready to talk about uncovering more time in your day, but I had several requests come in recently about how to handle difficult people and difficult relationships. And when I get lots of messages from different people about the same subject, that’s when I think, “hm, I think I’d better take some time to dive into this topic.”

And I can’t say I’m surprised that there’s been an increased interest in this subject right now. I think with Thanksgiving coming up this week in the United States, people have family and relatives on the mind much more than usual.

Plus, I think for a lot of us, we consider Thanksgiving to be the start of the holiday season. We have Thanksgiving followed by a bunch of different holiday parties through Christmas and New Year’s. And all of these different events with family, co-workers, friends, essentially fill our time throughout the month of December and right up through the New Year.

Now, the holiday season — although it’s technically the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — also brings up a lot of contrasting emotions for people.

And I’m not just talking about contrasting emotions between different people. Rather, we each have a lot of contrasting emotions ourselves about the holiday season. And because we are generally surrounded by a lot more people during these different holiday gatherings, and we have the added stress of the holiday bustle with planning parties, cooking meals, buying presents, our emotions can run really high. 

When you combine a lot of different personalities, many of whom are feeling more stressed out than normal, and you mix them together in close quarters, these strong personalities often come to the foreground.

And even though we love most of these people, and we love spending time with them, we can also feel a bit of apprehension, tension, and anxiety surrounding our interactions with them — and this is especially true during the holiday season.

Now, if you are listening to this podcast a while after it’s been released – let’s say it’s the middle of May or something – I encourage you to still listen to this episode.

Even though it may not be the traditional holiday season, we still frequently run into people who have contrasting personalities or opinions from our own. And having these tools to help you maneuver what some people might label as “challenging relationships” or “difficult people,” is beneficial at any time of the year. I promise you.

How to Handle Challenging Relationships

There are many different ways that we can approach this topic of how to work with “challenging relationships” or “contrasting personalities.” And I might explore some of these different approaches in later episodes throughout the month of December. So if you do want to hear more about relationships or how to have difficult conversations, please reach out to me and let me know. You can either head to the show notes at imbusybeingawesome.com/episode18 and leave a message in the comments section, or you can send me a message on Instagram @imbusybeingawesome. I would love to hear from you and connect with you.

For today, I decided to focus our attention inward. We are going to tackle the concept of difficult people and difficult relationships through a deep dive into ourselves, our minds, and how we choose to show up in these different situations. 

As a word of warning, some of these tools and strategies might seem a little bit different from what you have heard from others in terms of relationship strategies. If so, I encourage you to stay with me. Hear me out. Try on these different thoughts and see which ones serve you. And if there are some that don’t work for you, just leave those to the wayside. Because I’m here to share with you several different strategies that I like to use on a regular basis when I am working with contrasting personalities or difficult relationships.

Look inward for difficult relationships

The reason why I like to start with this inward approach is because of one simple fact: You are the only person you can control. Period. I know this news might be a bit of a bummer at first. And I hear you! Quite frankly, it would be so much easier if we could just control everyone to act the way we want them to. But unfortunately, I have not found a strategy to do that. I promise the moment I figure it out, I will let you know. But for now, the truth remains: you are the only person you can control.

But here’s the good news about this information. It also means that you get to decide exactly how you want to show up in the world. You have complete and total control over you. And this is great news. Because you get to decide how you think, feel, and act, in any situation that comes your way whether it’s challenging or positive.

How Do You Want to Show Up?

So the first thing I recommend before heading to that work party, or the Thanksgiving dinner, or the holiday gathering with your high school friends, is to ask yourself: “what experience do I want to have during this gathering?” Because truly — you get to decide. Do you want to have fun? Do you want to laugh a lot? Are you hoping to make connections with people you haven’t seen in months? Do you want to feel love for everyone in the room?

You get to decide on your experience.

Because as I’ve talked about multiple times in these episodes, the way you think about a scenario creates your feelings. And your feelings are what inspire you to take action. And the actions that you take create the results in your life. 

So in this situation, the way you think about the party or the gathering impacts the way you feel about the party, which influences the way you act at the gathering, which creates the result of whether you enjoy the situation or not.

So before you go to any of these parties. I really encourage you to think about what experience you want to have. And then answer that question.

Decide ahead of time.

And to take that one step further, ask yourself: how do I want to show up in this situation? Do I want to show up excited to talk to everybody? Do I want to show up ready to help out the host as much as possible? Maybe I want to show up excited to play with all of the little kids running around. Or maybe I want to show up excited to talk with the handful of people whom I love most in the world. Maybe I want to show up filled with love and gratitude for all of these people in the room.

You get to decide how you want to show up.

And the last question I want you to think about before going to the party or the gathering is: how do I want to act? Do I want to be open and accepting of all of the different people there? Do I want to reach out to everybody and make connections with them? 

So really take a few minutes and think about this. Remember, you are the only person you can control. And this is great news. Because you get to decide how this experience goes. You get to decide how you think about it, how you feel about it, and how you act on those feelings. 

So ask yourself: What experience do I want to have? Because I get to decide. How do I want to show up in this situation? How do I want to act in this situation? Decide ahead of time so that you can go into this experience with a clear head that’s focused on what’s most important to you.

Stop Being Surprised About Difficult People’s Behaviors

Now, this next strategy is one of my absolute favorites. I’m telling you, it has been a game-changer in how I interact with other people. And this strategy is to simply stop being surprised. Here’s what I mean by that. 

We all have that challenging co-worker who always shows up late to everything. Or that colleague who is the “one-upper,” and they “one-up” everything you do or say when you’re telling a story. We have that friend who forgets stuff all the time. e have that relative who constantly offers their opinions, which are often political and completely different from what you believe. We all have these people in our lives.

And for some reason, we allow ourselves to get super frustrated and super annoyed every single time that they do that thing.

So your friend shows up 20 minutes late to the holiday dinner, just as she does for every single dinner, and you’re super annoyed about it. Or you have that family member who goes on and on about the latest political scandal and they’re saying things that you find pretty rude, and you’re getting so angry that you could scream. Maybe you arrive at Thanksgiving and your aunt or your cousin offers a passive-aggressive comment on your weight, just as she does every year, and you get super defensive and seethe on the inside.

Expect it to happen

Here’s what I want to offer you. Stop being surprised when this happens. These things happen every single time with this person. You know it’s going to happen every single time. And when you resist it, and you think to yourself, “oh maybe they won’t nag me mercilessly again this year” and they do, it’s so easy to get super frustrated and offended.

But what if you went into Thanksgiving dinner thinking to yourself, of course, my uncle is going to make those comments. Or of course, my cousin is going to comment on my weight. Or maybe you go to the holiday party and you think, of course, my coworker is going to one-up every single thing that I do. Of course, my friend is going to arrive late. 

Now hear me for a minute — I am not saying that this person’s behavior – whatever it is – is acceptable. I’m not condoning any behavior. Instead, I’m suggesting that you stop being surprised by it. I am suggesting that you expect it to happen because it does happen every single year.

So instead of thinking to yourself: “I can’t believe that he is going on and on about politics again. This is so annoying. Doesn’t he know you’re not supposed to talk about politics at Thanksgiving?” What if you thought, “Oh! This is the part where my uncle talks about politics at Thanksgiving. Of course, this is happening, he always does this.” Or “Of course, my friend showed up 20 minutes late – that’s what she always does. And now that she’s here, I’m going to feel excited about seeing her rather than feeling frustrated about the time she arrived.

Now, I know this isn’t easy all the time. But I promise that when you expect these things to happen, and you stop resisting them, it makes the experience so much better. And what’s more, if the person does surprise you, and they don’t do it, that’s even better. In other words, why not be pleasantly surprised rather than constantly annoyed?

So think about the party you’re attending, or the dinner you’re going to. Now, think about that challenging friend or family member who often rubs you the wrong way. What is it about them that drives you crazy? 

Once you’ve identified what it is, just remind yourself that they are going to do it. Of course, they’re going to do it. And also remind yourself of how you want to show up at this event nevertheless. 

Then, when that person does that thing, you can think to yourself, “Yep! right on time.” Or, “that’s just Karen being Karen.” or “Oh! This is the part where they show up late/talk politics/make offensive comments.” 

When you expect it rather than resist it, it makes it so much easier for you to continue showing up in the way that you want. Because remember, again, you are the only person you can control. So show up the way you want, and let others do what they always do.

The Caveat

Now, if there are extreme situations that make you really uncomfortable. Or if there are times that you don’t want to be around a certain behavior, that’s definitely an option. And we’ll talk about that a little bit later in this podcast. So stay with me. But before we do, I want to talk about a few other strategies to help you handle these difficult relationships.

Be Curious

The next strategy I want to suggest is to practice curiosity. 

I think one of the most helpful ways to interact with challenging people is to be curious about their behavior. One of my favorite thoughts to practice is, “that is so interesting. I wonder what’s going on with them right now?” 

Because here’s the truth. Every single person is walking around with thousands of different thoughts racing around their mind and all of these different feelings vibrating through their body and inspiring them to take action. 

And the reality is that none of us actually know with 100% certainty what that other person is thinking. We don’t know what’s going on in their minds. We don’t know how they’re feeling. And we don’t know why they feel compelled to make that comment or offer that criticism. Since we don’t know, this is why I love to be curious.

And be careful here; I’m not saying to be judgemental. I don’t mean for you to think, “what the heck is wrong with them?” Rather, I mean to get genuinely curious about what that other person is thinking and how they’re feeling. 

Curious Thoughts to Think

Some of the thoughts I like to practice are: “I wonder what’s going on with them right now?” Or “This is so fascinating. I wonder what’s causing them to feel that way.” Because when we embrace curiosity, and we explore these thoughts in our mind, it allows us to create compassion. It allows us to look at that other person with a much more open mind. We are able to consider different reasons why they might be thinking or feeling or acting in a certain way. 

Now, could we be completely wrong in our thoughts? Sure! But who cares? If you’ve decided ahead of time that you want to show up to your family Christmas party and experience love for every single person in that room, then stop being surprised about those annoying behaviors. Instead, be curious. What’s going on with this person? How might they be thinking or feeling? Practice that compassion and that empathy, and I promise you that your interactions will feel so much more positive.

Start Asking Questions

And this brings me to my next tip, which is to take that your curiosity to the next level and start asking questions. People love to talk about themselves and what’s going on in their lives. So why not ask them about it? Why not ask questions about how they’re doing, what they’re up to, how work is going, what’s making them excited, how their holiday season is treating them. 

And really listen to their answers. Be open and curious about their responses. And perhaps most importantly, look for connections to what they have to say.

On the podcast last week, episode 17, I talked about the power of confirmation bias. And basically what this means, is that your brain looks for evidence to prove whatever you’re thinking is true. So if we take that into consideration with this situation, and you go into a conversation with that difficult person feeling curious and expecting to find connections with them, the likelihood of you finding a connection is so much greater than going in thinking to yourself, “we have absolutely nothing in common.” 

So challenge yourself. Make it a goal of yours to find at least one thing that you have in common with that difficult person. Because you do have connections. You just need to open your eyes and look for them. And when you do, you will not only have a better understanding of that person, but you will also have more patience toward their otherwise frustrating behaviors.

It’s Okay to Leave the Conversation

Now, I also want to acknowledge that there may be times when situations unfold or conversations happen and you simply do not want to be a part of them. Maybe one of your co-workers loves to gossip about other people in the office. Or maybe you have a family member who likes to gossip about other relatives at the gathering. 

When situations like this arise, remember, you are in control of you. And what’s more, you are the only person you can control.

So while it’s true that you can’t make these people stop talking about others or behaving in a certain way, you do get to decide how you show up in that circumstance. You can decide to leave the room or not participate in the conversation. And that is perfectly okay.

If people are sitting around mingling before Christmas dinner, and everyone in the kitchen is gossiping about someone in the family, you have every right to leave the kitchen. No one is making you stay.

Leave With Love

Now, if you decide to leave, however, I encourage you to do it out of love rather than out of frustration. And here’s the deal, it will probably look the same on the outside – you will leave the kitchen in both situations. However, the way you think and feel about your actions will be so much different. Because leaving the conversation out of frustration or righteousness thinking, “I can’t believe them!” is leaving out of resistance. And as we talked about before, resistance makes the emotions worse.  But what if you thought about the situation a little differently?

One of my favorite questions to ask myself is: “how can I show up with love in this situation?” And by this, I mean love for the other people and love for myself. And when I ask myself this question, I often find the answers are much more positive and accepting. 

So let’s keep the same circumstance – you’re in the kitchen and everyone is talking about another family member and you don’t want to be around it. In a situation like this, I encourage you to ask yourself: “how can I show up with love in this situation?”

Maybe love looks like taking care of you, not participating in the gossip, and choosing to go talk with someone else instead. There is no harm in thinking to yourself about the other person: “I love you, but I’m not participating in this conversation.” I’m not saying you have to say that out loud. But thinking it to yourself, and following through on how you want to show up in this experience, can make all the difference: “I love you, but no.”

Practice Love Toward Yourself and Compassion for Others

Because again, the only person you can control is you. So practice love toward yourself and practice compassion toward everyone else at the gathering. And if you decide that you don’t want to participate in a conversation or be in a certain situation, know that it is perfectly okay to leave. No one is forcing you to stay. I just encourage you to make that decision in love.

Everyone is Doing the Best they Can

And that brings me to the last powerful thought and strategy that I think is a real game-changer when it comes to handling difficult people or challenging interactions. And this is the reminder that everyone is doing the best that they can.

I genuinely believe this is true.

I think all of us are showing up every single day and doing the best that we can. 

Now, sometimes the best is pretty low. Sometimes our best means a short temper and catty remarks. But even then, I believe that we are all showing up the best that we can, with the tools we have, in that moment. And I have found that as I’ve started to truly embrace and believe this thought about other people, and I’ve started practicing genuine curiosity, compassion, and love for these other people, I have an easier time believing it about myself, too.

And that has been a game-changer.

Recap!

So as we go into the holiday season, I invite you to keep these thoughts in mind. 

First, you are the only person you can control. So plan ahead of time: how do you want to show up in these situations? 

Second, stop being surprised. If you have a friend who’s always late, or a relative who always speaks out of turn, or a coworker who always gossips, stop being surprised about it. Being surprised and frustrated about the way they always act simply creates resentment and resistance, which only makes us more frustrated. So why not expect it? Think to yourself: “Oh! This is the part where they show up late.” Or “this is the part were they start gossiping.” Or “Yep, it’s just Karen being Karen.” 

Next, challenge yourself to be curious. Why do you think they’re acting this way? What do you think’s going on in their lives? What are they thinking and feeling to cause these actions? We are all individuals walking around with a crazy array of thoughts and feelings. Why not play detective and figure out what’s going on in their minds? Because when you take time to explore, you often uncover compassion and understanding for that other person. 

Similarly, ask some questions. Be genuinely curious about what’s going on with that other person. And most importantly, look for connections with them. Use that confirmation bias for good – I guarantee there’s something that you two share in common.

Of course, even if you find a connection, it is also 100% okay to leave. If you’re in a situation where you’re uncomfortable or people are practicing behaviors that you don’t want to participate in, it is perfectly okay to leave. There doesn’t have to be drama. There doesn’t have to be anger. Instead, do it with love. Do it with love for yourself and love for the other person. And finally, try on the thought that everybody is doing the best they can. We are all showing up as the best version of ourselves with the tools that we have at that moment. I promise, when you can really embrace this thought, your whole perspective will change.

Quote of the Week

I was doing some reading about relationships the other day, and I came across a simple quotation that reads:

I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.

This is such a simple, yet powerful reminder that we are in control of our actions.

We get to choose what we want to think and how we want to feel in any situation.

Someone else might open the door for an argument or a confrontation.

But you’re the one who walks through it.

It takes two people to have an argument, so what if you chose to let it be?

What if you chose love instead?

And with that, my friends, I hope you have an incredible Thanksgiving and a beautiful start to your holiday season. And I’d love to know – did this message connect with you this week? If so, snap a picture, throw it up on your Instagram stories, and be sure to tag me @imbusybeingawesome. I would love to hear about it!

Also, if you want to keep getting more great strategies to increase your productivity, manage your time, and start living your best life, then be sure to hit the subscribe button on your podcast app now. 

And finally, do you know of anyone who would benefit from these relationship strategies? Then be a rockstar and share it with them!

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk to you soon.

44 thoughts on “How to Handle Difficult People During the Holidays”

  1. This is such a packed podcast! I think you covered about everything in it! I think the only other thing to remember is that some people are simply emotionally abusive. With people that are consistently one upping and or emotionally abusive the best solution is often times to stay away. It’s sad when it comes to this, but unfortunately it can be the only option with some people.

    1. Thank you, Shayla! You raise an important point. Yes, sometimes we need to create boundaries for ourselves to ensure we are in situations that are healthy. Very true.

  2. I have people that I have to interact with on a daily basis. As you said, expect their type of behavior and learn to work with it. I find that this helps with difficult people.

  3. Yes, this is perfect!! I often have to deal with a lot of difficult people as I am in customer service, and not just around the holiday. But this helps a lot, thank you so much for sharing!!

  4. Great tips and perfect timing for this podcast. The one thing which you mention that I do not apply is to expect things will happen. Sometimes, I think that because I haven’t seen certain family members in a long time, things will be different, but that is rarely the case. Distance does not change behavior. Thanks for making me aware of my own bias.

  5. this post couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. i have a family member who i’m not trying to deal with. ugh. but like someone else said this is great for any time of the year cause it’s not only the holidays that we might have to deal with these people.

  6. It is so good to have a resource like this! The holiday is such a stressful time and having to spend it with difficult people can make it more stressful.

    1. Thanks, Patricia! Yeah, there is so much work we can do on ourselves to maintain these healthy relationships and practice love. 🙂

  7. This is such a great post, especially since we are in the holiday season! With holiday parties and family gatherings, it can be a little difficult to bring together so many different personalities and thoughts! Love the ways that you have listed! to help deal with them!

    Kileen

  8. This is a perfect post not only for the holidays but for everyday life and relationships. I just recently had some breakthrough situations that involved challenging personalities. I love what you said: “You get to decide how you want to show up” and to not be surprised. It’s so true – I think that’s actually key here. I’ve decided to expect anything different from the same people is just silly. Once I realized this – I’ve been more prepared, and I have definitely been working on things more inwardly, like you recommended. Such a great podcast too 🙂

  9. These are all such great tips! I have some challenging relationships that I will have to deal with this holiday season, so this is very helpful!!!

  10. That is such an interesting topic, celebrations can be sometimes frustrating when you have a relative that is not so into you. Which always happens to everyone.

  11. I’ve recently gotten into podcasts. I want to listen to yours. I love the “stop being surprised” tactic!

    1. Yep, I think we all run into contrasting personalities and different times – and the high-stress of the holidays seems to bring it out even stronger!

  12. They recently discussed this same topic at church and they said that some people were EGRs. Extra Grace Required. Sometimes just asking questions like you said can help break through a wall someone has up.

  13. Our family gatherings are often filled with “challenging relationships” and “contrasting personalities,” and you’ve offered some solid advice for maneuvering all of that. One pice of advice you shared that really hits home is, “Before you go to any of these parties. I really encourage you to think about what experience you want to have.” Considering expectations and deciding ahead of time what you will and won’t do can make a huge difference in your experience. Thanks for this!

  14. This is sooooo good. Family gatherings can be fun but also fraught with arguments waiting to happen. You are absolutely right that the only person you can control is yourself, and I love the quote about not attending every argument you are invited to. What a relief to know you can RSVP ‘not coming’ and respectfully walk away!

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