We all know people that are more "difficult" to interact with than others. While some are blissfully unaware of how they affect those around them, some seem to get a certain amount of satisfaction from pushing our buttons. Regardless, these types of people bring unnecessary stress and complexity into our lives.

Whether it's your overbearing mother-in-law or a less than pleasant co-worker, here are 7 steps you can take to make the best out of dealing with difficult people.

  1. Listen. Although this may be one of the most challenging things to do, listening is one of the most important ways to deal with a difficult person. Everyone wants to feel heard; some just have unique ways of letting others know. Pay attention to what this person is trying to tell you, rather than thinking about what you're going to say next. You might even surprise yourself with what you learn when you set defensiveness aside and read between the lines.
  1. Stay calm. It’s far more challenging to listen if you’re not calm. When you find yourself getting caught up in the heat of the moment, take a step back, and focus on your breathing. 
  1. Reflect and validate. Try to understand the situation. Obtaining some clarity by asking questions while managing your reactions can help find a mutually satisfactory outcome. When you check your understanding, it tells the person you're doing your best to cooperate and understand what they're saying. Although they may not express the way they're feeling verbatim, do your best to empathize. They may not be used to someone trying to understand them, and you may even get a different response from them. 
  1. Seek advice from others. When in doubt, seek out others’ support. Sometimes, discussing it with a trusted source can help you reframe the situation to facilitate a more positive outcome.
  1. Don’t fight fire with fire. Raising your voice or being disrespectful will only add fuel to an already heated situation. Try your best to use a low, calm, even monotone voice. Don't try and talk over them, and use your best judgment in knowing when to respond.
  1. Establish boundaries. While it's important to reflect and listen to a difficult person, everyone has limits on how much they can handle. Recognize what yours are and set clear, appropriate boundaries. You have a right to decide what you choose to tolerate.
  2. Take care of yourself. Once the situation is over, talk to someone about it or find a way to relax. It's important to discharge your stress after setting aside your natural reactions for a while. 

 And finally, give yourself some credit!  It takes a lot of effort not to act like a jerk when someone is deserving of it. Don't skip this step! 

Implementing a few of these strategies will help you de-escalate challenging situations, but keep in mind that everyone responds differently to them. Stay flexible and remember that every unpleasant encounter will pass. As your communication skills improve, these situations become simpler to manage.