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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dealing With Difficult People

In the hustle and bustle of Twenty-First Century life, people sometimes forget their manners.  They push and shove in line, they curse in public, they shoot at random strangers with nail guns.  In short, they are just plain rude.  As much as we might wish these people would just go away to an island somewhere where they would annoy each other, this just isn't feasible, so we have to learn to cope with difficult people and defuse situations before they get out of hand.  Here are some guidelines.

1. Know the Signs.  Tempers don't just flare up out of nowhere.  There's almost always a build-up, and if you know what to look for, you can head off trouble before it starts.  A person who frowns and refuses to make eye contact may be in a bad mood.  It's even worse if they frown and make eye contact.  Nervous fidgeting and pushing things around is another sign.  They may push around small objects such as pen caps, razor-sharp switchblades, you.  Another giveaway are tattoos such as, "I will kill you if you look at me funny," or "Die, you damn yuppie scum."  The wise person picks up on such little clues and steers away.

2. Remain Calm.  This is really the key to the whole thing.  If you respond to aggression with more aggression, it only exacerbates the problem.  For example, if someone comes after you with a baseball bat, you may be tempted to come back at them with a sledge hammer.  This, however, is a mistake.  Instead, keep your cool.  Try taking deep breaths.  This can be difficult to do when someone has his hands around your throat throttling you, but you will find it worth the effort.  Should you survive long enough, your calm breathing will also have a calming effect on your assailant.  Everybody wins.

3. Be Pleasant and Reassuring.  The Bible says "a soft answer turneth away wrath."  Of course, the Bible also says somewhere near the headwaters of the Tigris an Euphrates there's an angel with a flaming sword making sure no one sneaks back into Eden.  Nevertheless, in the midst of a confrontation, a friendly remark can do wonders.  Instead of "getting an attitude," try paying a compliment, such as, "That's a very nice gun you have pointed at me.  Do you mind telling me where you got it?"

4. Respect Personal Space.  People feel threatened when their space is violated, and this is especially true when they're upset.  Maintain a good three feet between you and a person who seems on the verge of "losing it."  In some cases, three feet may not be enough.  You may want to leave the room entirely, if possible.  In the case of especially persistent and violent stalkers, or if you've borrowed money from Vinnie the Crud, you may find it useful to go all the way to another state and change your name.

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