Some Thoughts on Dealing with Difficult People

Difficult people…we probably have all dealt with difficult people in our lives. It isn’t easy or we won’t call them “difficult” people. There is no one single way to deal with all difficult people. It takes patience. It takes understanding. It also means understanding ourselves.

Ourselves? It’s the other person who is the difficult one, isn’t it? Maybe much of the blame on is on them but if we hope to make things better, we do well to admit our own shortcomings. After all, what does Jesus have to say about judging others in their sin?

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

In examining myself, some things about me that might be a challenge for others include that I tend to set the bar high, meaning I have high expectations. I definitely expect a lot of myself. The good news for people I work with is that I recognize this and, while I expect them to do a good job, I recognize that they have other things going on in their lives. For me, my ministry as a priest is at the core of what I do. I do visit my dad and help him out but I don’t have the family responsibilities of others. Others need to fulfill what is expected of them but it needs to be reasonable and clear.

I also recognize the importance of prayer in working with others. What do I pray for? At the heart of my prayer is not that others do what I want. No, I pray that they, as well as me, do God’s Will. This is the way that Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done.” It is the way that Jesus himself prayed in the garden when He was about to be arrested, “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Remember, Jesus knows what it is like to deal with difficult people. He dealt with people who were stuck in their own expectations and refused to see him for who He really is, the Messiah, because He did not meet their expectations of the messiah. Did Jesus give up on them? No, He died for them just as He died for us. Even on the Cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). When we are dealing with difficult people, we must be open to forgiveness, remembering how Jesus said to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

So, what are some characteristics in people that I find difficult to deal with? I find it difficult to deal with people who are late, those who don’t seem to really listen, lack of follow-through, poor communication, or don’t seek to grow.

Perhaps the last one is the most frustrating for me. I want to bring out the best in people. There are two things I have to willing to accept here. First, what they think is best may not be what I think is best (Neither of us may be right. God is the one who truly knows what is best. That’s why we need to pray). Secondly, sometimes people aren’t interested in doing their best. Here, we ask for God’s guidance to set reasonable expectations and for the grace to deal with the situation properly when reasonable expectations are not met.

How about people who are late? First, we need to be sure start times are always clear. I know people who just assume things don’t start on time so they make no effort to get there on time. I think while we need to acknowledge there may be good reasons people may be late, it is always best to plan on starting on time so that people have the same understanding. Otherwise, one person shows up on time, another at five past while another at ten past. I also pray for the grace to be patient. I am always early so I really need the grace of patience for people who are late.

What about those who don’t seem to listen? Now, none of us is perfect. We can all be distracted at times. We may be physically present but at the same time have other concerns like a sick loved one. Here, we pray for all to have the grace to be present in the moment. That being said, we also need to make sure we are being explicit. Sometimes the other person is listening but they have a different understanding of the situation. Words can mean different things. Abbreviations can mean different things. I know that when I left my job as an engineer to become a priest, I found some abbreviations stand for very different things in “church talk” than engineering. Words can have different meanings too. For instance, as an engineer, “exponent” is a math term symbolizing raising a number to a power. It can also be used to describe a person who champions or exemplifies something. We need to be sure we are in agreement in what we are talking about.

Then there is lack of follow through. Jesus says, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’” (Matthew 5:37). There may be times we are not able to complete the task as assigned. We need to communicate that. To be able to count on each other, we need to make sure we do what we say we will. Of course, at times we might be assigned tasks we don’t want to do. Jesus did not want to have to die on the Cross but He did because He knew it was best.

I also listed poor communication. I think I have already covered this is what I said about the others but, to be explicit, we need to make sure we are in agreement of what has been said and what each person has agreed to do.

There are difficult people. We need to do our best to make sure we are not one of them and to pray for the grace to work with others who we find difficult.


Fr. Jeff

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