Raise your hand if you’ve gotten stuck chatting with someone you hate at a holiday party recently. Whether it’s a drunk close-talker or a very vocal amateur nutritionist, there’s always a person who’s going to put a damper on your evening. But, you don’t have to fake a phone call (or an injury) to avoid someone who’s whiny, selfish, or downright mean. Instead, try these science-backed ways to deal with seven types of difficult people — all while keeping your cool.
The Constant Complainer: We all complain sometimes. Then there are those people who whine so often, you start to wonder if they’re just looking for attention. It becomes even more frustrating when they don’t seem motivated to fix any of their own problems — and dismiss your advice when you try to help. Indeed, social psychologists have flagged “help-rejecting complainers” as some of the most exasperating types of people to know. The best way to deal, psychologists say, is to keep from getting too emotionally invested in your friend’s psychodrama. How? Acknowledge your buddy’s frustration; then, ask calmly what he or she intends to do about it. That puts the onus on your pal to find a solution.
The Self-Righteous Exerciser: You had a double cheeseburger for dinner last night, and then slept through your morning workout. Meanwhile, your friend just posted the umpteenth screenshot of calories burned and miles logged. Not only is it dull to hear all the trivial details of someone else’s juice cleanse or personal-training session, it also forces you to confront your own sense of inadequacy for failing to measure up. One way to cope is to remind yourself that your pal is probably trying to find motivation to keep up good habits — rather than purposely trying to make you feel crappy about your own sloth. Studies suggest that people tend to overestimate the extent to which others will be happy or proud for them (and underestimate how annoying they might come across). Try engaging your friend politely, but briefly; you’ll encourage those good intentions while (hopefully) keeping them from getting carried away.
The Angry Drunk: People who get nasty when they drink aren’t just a nuisance; they can also make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells to avoid antagonizing them further. No matter how angry your boozy friend makes you, resist the urge to provoke him or her back. Studies show that when aggressive drunks have an opportunity to respond in a peaceful way, they usually will. Distraction works, too, because it exploits drunk people’s tendency to lose focus. Pinball, anyone?
The Personal-Cause Solicitor: It’s hard not to feel like Scrooge when you roll your eyes at a friend’s latest attempt to raise money for a charity race. Your annoyance is likely compounded by a sense of obligation; studies show that people are more compelled to donate when they’re close to the person doing the soliciting. If the cause appeals to you, it’s probably worth giving a little — plenty of studies demonstrate that you get an emotional boost from doing something charitable. Resist the urge to contribute merely out of guilt, though. One study at the London School of Economics found — not surprisingly — that people who who donated because of social pressure felt less satisfied with their decision than those who made the choice on their own. You can always commend your friend on the commitment to charity without feeling obligated to kick in your own funds.
The Guilt Tripper: It sucks to hang out with someone who makes you feel bad about yourself the whole time. Studies show that guilt tripping is actually a pretty effective way to spur a change in behavior, though — as long as the person being guilted agrees he or she is acting out of the ordinary. If someone’s guilting you, start by asking yourself if you’ve done something truly reprehensible. If so, try to make amends.
If you decide you’re being your normal, angelic self, though (and your friend is just being manipulative), your best bet is to get some space from all the negativity. Research shows that when you’re interrupted by something positive, you feel less compelled to give in to someone trying to guilt you. With that in mind, find a happy-go-lucky friend to cheer you up, or sweat it out in your favorite SoulCycle class—whatever it is you need to do to boost your self-esteem and reassure yourself that no, you’re not a bad person.
The Adult Bully: People often tease for well-intentioned reasons, like to establish intimacy or demonstrate camaraderie. There’s a fine line between good-natured ribbing and annoying or hurtful “joking.” Yes, it can be cringe-inducing to admit your feelings are hurt — but try saying something like, “I know you’re just fooling around, but I’m a little sensitive lately,” to a frequent teaser. If the person won’t stop, consider whether you might have hurt him or her somehow: Research has shown that people are more inclined to use aggressive humor when they feel they’ve been wronged.
The Social Media Bragger: It doesn’t matter how many times you yawn or audibly sigh — some people will never get the message that you’re tired of hearing how great their jobs, spouses, or vacation plans are. Of course, there’s no shortage of shameless bragging on social media, either (witness the #luckygirl or #humblebrag hashtags). To ease your frustrations, think about the bragger’s underlying motivations — chances are, that person is insecure, needs validation, or has low self-esteem. If all else fails, remember that you’re probably not the only one feeling chafed by your friend’s self-congratulatory attitude; save up your annoyance for some group venting later.
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