You know the feeling: that pit in your stomach when you have to deal with certain people, whether it be a friend, coworker, boss, or family member. If there鈥檚 someone you always dread interacting with, you might be in a toxic relationship. Difficult people are unavoidable in life, but how you handle them can make a big difference. Author and scientist Vanessa Van Edwards runs a human behavior lab called The Science of People and writes about how we can learn to better navigate social situations, and she鈥檚 shared her tips with us for mastering small talk and rocking a party when you鈥檙e an introvert. Her bestselling book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People ($17) delves even deeper into how to use science to better understand human behavior. This time, Van Edwards suggests ways to handle challenging conversations with those people who really get under your skin.

1. Pinpoint your fears. We all have social fears 鈥 like being rejected, a person not liking you, or being criticized 鈥 but for each of us, these hang-ups are different based on our life experiences. Van Edwards thinks it鈥檚 important to recognize what triggers you in social situations. 鈥淲hen you interact with people, what are you afraid of?鈥 asks Van Edwards. These 鈥済remlins,鈥 as she calls your social anxieties, force you into survival mode and make you feel anxious and act irrationally. For example, if a boss yelled at you, you might be afraid to speak with them about a raise because you鈥檙e afraid of being yelled at again. So your gremlin might be telling you, 鈥淒on鈥檛 talk to her.鈥 However, Van Edwards wants you to understand that your gremlins are trying to keep you safe, but ultimately, they need to be recognized and accepted so you can move past your fears.

2. Figure out the other person鈥檚 fears. Van Edwards writes in her book Captivate that difficult people aren鈥檛 bad people. She believes that their fears put them in constant survival mode so they鈥檙e acting out of fear and without reason. If someone is driving you bonkers, ask yourself, 鈥淲hat is this person afraid of?鈥 When talking with that person, listen to what 鈥渆motion words鈥 they are using. 鈥淓motion words,鈥 writes Van Edwards, 鈥渋ndicate inner fears.鈥 For example, if an annoying coworker says to you, 鈥淚鈥檓 so upset about the promotion at work! I鈥檓 so pissed I didn鈥檛 get it. It鈥檚 just so unfair,鈥 the emotion words in their speech would be 鈥渦pset,鈥 鈥減issed,鈥 and 鈥渦nfair.鈥

3. Name the emotion. Now that you鈥檝e figured out what emotion words they鈥檙e using, try to get to the root of their fear. Reflect back what you heard, like, 鈥淣ot getting a promotion seems so unfair.鈥 Then you might say, 鈥淕ive me a sense of what you鈥檙e feeling.鈥 If they鈥檙e not vocal about their emotions, try to distinguish what emotions you鈥檙e reading on their face.

4. Understand the feeling. Writes Van Edwards, 鈥淥nce someone feels heard, their fear begins to disengage and you can deal with a more rational person.鈥 The question to ask yourself once you鈥檝e acknowledged their feelings is, 鈥淲hat is this person seeking?鈥 Understanding what they truly want is helpful for working through their problems. Van Edwards suggests the phrase 鈥淭ell me what happened that made you feel this way鈥 as an ice-breaker.

5. Transform the fear. Once you understand what鈥檚 driving this person鈥檚 behavior, then Van Edwards recommends asking, 鈥淲hat needs to happen for you to feel better?鈥 This type of question allows the difficult person to name next steps. Of course, it doesn鈥檛 mean that they will take actions to resolve their issues, but it helps to defuse tense situations.

6. Say no to the wrong relationships. You鈥檒l find that some toxic people have deep-seated fears that make them completely intolerable. Van Edwards writes, 鈥淕ive yourself permission to say no to the toxic people who drain you. You deserve to interact on your terms, with people you like.鈥 If you have trouble saying no to this person, Van Edwards recommends phrases such as 鈥淚鈥檓 so sorry I won鈥檛 be able to join鈥 or 鈥淗ow wonderful of you to offer鈥 as a gentle way to say no.

7. Set聽boundaries. If you have a hard time disengaging with a difficult person who tries to coax you into do something you don鈥檛 want to do, setting up boundaries is a healthy way to stop saying yes to what drives you nuts. If you hate large social gatherings, but your coworker insists that you come to her big birthday bash, you can say, 鈥淪orry, I can鈥檛 make the party. Can I take you out to brunch tomorrow?鈥 If it鈥檚 hard for you to share this in person, ask if you can check your calendar, then email or text your response so you can compose your words carefully.

What鈥檚 your best tip for dealing with difficult people? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know.

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