You don’t live in a vacuum. No matter what, other people are a facet of everyday life for almost everyone.
Often this is a good thing. Material wealth and possessions matter far less to happiness than you might assume. Seemingly more important factors, such as fulfilling work or living location, also play a surprisingly small part in the equation. Rather, studies show that relationships with others are the biggest predictor in whether or not you’re happy. Positive, meaningful relationships also help us to get what we want, increase our chances of success and help us believe in ourselves.
But, people can also be a real buzz kill, especially when it feels like they’re dragging you down or holding you back. Some people always seem to push your buttons, while others heap negativity on you, steal your praise or otherwise behave like Kindergartners in need of behavioral remediation. For the most part, nasty people are easy to ignore, especially if you’re having a good day or they play peripheral roles in your life.
But what about when they don’t? The underpaid and verbally abused employee, the daughter who isn’t good enough for her mother, the unsupported spouse…each of these people would tell you that other people have a real, measurable impact on their happiness and their ability to get what they want out of life.
At the surface this seems like a personal problem, but an inordinate amount of psychological research is actually devoted to dealing with difficult people. In fact, they are so commonplace that social scientists have even categorized them under such headings as the constant complainer, the know-it-all expert and the pessimist.
Not only are such people unpleasant, but Elaine Hatfield’s theory of emotional contagion predicts that even brief contact with such people can cause you to “catch” their emotions. Unhelpful.
Because I work from home, I’ve been interested lately to discover that even people with whom you communicate from far away – over the phone, say, or through email – can wreck your day with inappropriate behavior or unkind words. So the bad news is that such “work jerks” really are everywhere.
The good news is that the toolbox for dealing with such people is large and ever-expanding. For instance, simply asking narcissists to think about something from another’s point of view ups their empathy. According to Psychology Today, the best way to deal with ticking time bombs is to stay calm no matter what, while suck-ups should be dealt with through a bold declaration that you don’t want to have slimy conversations.
If the research is clear on one point, it’s that such people really do have the power to limit your productivity or ruin your day, and that you really do have options with how to deal with it. Okay, fine, that’s two points.