Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
December 2, 2007


Everybody has to learn to deal with difficult people


Sooner or later everyone must learn how to respond to difficult people. Fail to do so and they will make your life miserable. None of us can escape this assignment. 
          The place to begin is to admit that to at least a few people everyone of us is difficult to deal with. None of us is agreeable to everybody. As sweet as you may think you are, there is someone out there who finds you annoying. Your “sweetness” may be the very thing that rubs one of your acquaintances the wrong way. Have you not known a person who was so “nice” that it made you sick?

Once you can admit that, you can find a reasonable way to deal with troublesome people. You realize that there is more to this task than learning how to be patient, with others. You understand that other people must struggle to put up with you.  Growth can occur when this leads you to ask yourself, “What is there about me that irritates this or that person?”
         Some people are like sandpaper – to you.  God uses them to smooth off the rough edges of your personality. Such buffing hurts but makes you a finer person in the long run. Not getting your way about everything helps you mature. Good relationships require "give and take" for goodwill to exist.

Just remember that you are sandpaper to someone else! Each one of us is the grain of sand that produces a pearl in someone else’s oyster. Forget that and you have an unbalanced view of yourself and others.
         One pastor said his church was “the home of 3,000 warm and wonderful people and 2 or 3 grouches." That is a dangerous way to think. It conveys the assumption that the pastor and 2997 of his members were wonderful people who were spiritually superior to the three grouches. No way, Jose. 
         Often the people who complain are the catalyst for change. They can help us to see the truth about ourselves. Perhaps that is why the grouches are spread around; some of them are needed in every church – and in every person’s life.
         Some people are proud of their grouchy nature. They earned it by being hard to get along with and they work hard to maintain their reputation. They are intentionally disagreeable and enjoy being a fly in the soup of life. One man told me, "As long as I am on the board of this church, there will never be a unanimous vote on anything." He was true to his word. But being a “stick in the mud” is not a worthy achievement.
         Our challenge is to guard against embracing an “us” and “them” attitude. We must constantly examine our own attitudes and behavior. Instead of pointing a finger at somebody else, we need to ask ourselves, "Am I a difficult person to my friends and associates?"
         We need to admit that sometimes we are cantankerous ourselves, and willing to make life difficult for others. Such self-examination is, of course, extremely difficult, for most of us have 20/20 vision when it comes to seeing the faults of others. We can easily see "the speck" in our brother’s eye but fail to see "the log" in our own.
         The first step, then, toward dealing successfully with difficult people is to admit that sometimes you can be very annoying and offensive yourself. Once you can admit that to yourself, you can find a way to be more patient and understanding with those persons you find so disagreeable.
         Beyond that you can develop the difficult habit of offering others more mercy than judgment. Harsh judgment of others always makes matters worse, while gentle mercy can open the door to a better relationship. Even if you are "right" in your assessment of another person’s mistakes, you can never win another over through criticism. It only makes matters worse.

Finally, it helps to remember that you have not been sent into the world to "straighten everyone out." Some people appear to believe that their mission in life is to stand in judgment of the flaws of other people. Thus they make themselves, and everyone around them, miserable. Give that up for Lent – in Advent.
         Once you and I step down from the judgment seat, we can look for ways to offer the difficult person our understanding and friendship. Even if our offer is refused, the rejection does not make us less of a person. It could even cause the difficult person to realize that there is a better way to live. You can sleep better knowing that you did not allow the grouchy person to get under your skin and cause you to match their poor behavior.

Getting along with difficult people is not easy. It requires that you work at becoming less difficult to get along with yourself. If you work at it, you can improve your ability to get along peacefully with difficult people, and in the process become more fun to live with yourself. Remember too that there are no rewards at the end for having been obnoxious, rigid, and inflexible. Life is meant for nobler attitudes. + + +