Communicating with difficult people: A how-to guide. - The Indigo Project

Communicating with difficult people: A how-to guide.

Communication is essential when it comes to connecting with others, setting clear and assertive boundaries and getting our needs met. But at times, we are confronted with people who might not be as cool with open and calm communication as we are. Below are some helpful tips when it comes to talking to people who might be, at times, a little challenging to communicate with…

1. Communicating with someone who always thinks they’re “right”.

  • Identify what factors are essential for someone to be “right” so that you can assess whether they actually are or not:
    • Evidence (what information is there to support them?)
    • Objectivity (is it an objective truth? or just an opinion?)
    • Acknowledging possible bias. (what might be clouding yours/their judgement?)
  • Are they open to having discussion with you? If they’re not interested in any discourse, ask yourself whether it’s worth your time and effort to engage with them.
  • Know when to disengage. It’s time to bow out of a chat when:
    • They do not allow you a chance to share your perspective and speak over you.
    • They do not provide any evidence for their position and feel they are right ‘just because’.
    • They are aggressive (intimidating, yelling) with their approach and it makes you feel distressed.
  • An unconstructive conversation with someone who is very rigid can be mentally draining, so make sure you attend to your self-care.

2. Communicating with someone who hates vulnerable convos and never wants to open up.

  • Explore the reasons why someone may be averse to vulnerability:
    • It’s a foreign concept to them and not something that has been modelled to them growing up.
    • A lack of practice – for us to be adept at any conscious behaviour, practice is essential!
    • They don’t feel safe enough to be vulnerable and the idea of it creates fear.
  • Express why you would like them to be more vulnerable with you, what are the underlying values? Are you hoping to having a deeper and more meaningful connection with them or want to support them through their challenges?
  • Create a safe space for them – even ask what makes them feel safe e.g. being in a familiar environment, not having strangers around, a warm drink, etc.
  • Communicating gently with a warm curiosity (active listening, reflecting, empathy) will more likely help someone open up as opposed to a rigid series of questions that could easily come across as an interrogation and close them off even more.
  • Model vulnerability back to them. Remember that vulnerability can be scary for some people and showing your own vulnerability can facilitate a sense of safety, trust and reciprocity.

3. Communicating with someone who is highly fragile and anxious.

  • Find a time to chat where you’re both feeling comfortable and calm. Avoid setting up the chat with a line like “We need to talk” or “I wanna chat later” (cue **anxiety**), instead, perhaps suggest that you’d like to hang out and ask when might be a good time for them.
  • If you need to bring up something challenging, try to spend some time making the other person feel loved and safe. Remind them what they mean to you. Share with them the ways you feel proud of them. Validate their struggles and commend them on their growth and healing.
  • Try to be mindful of the words you use and hold back from any accusatory or hostile language – perhaps avoid feeling words such as “abandoned” and “hurt” that imply the direct impact of an outside individual. Stick with feeling words such as “sad”, “scared”, “angry”, etc., that allow you to take full ownership of your emotional experience.
  • Try to frame things in the positive way, rather than angling towards the negative. For example – You’re chatting to your partner about them never helping around the house. Instead of “You don’t ever help me around the house and make me feel really unsupported.” Try “I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed with house chores lately, and it would really mean a lot to me if we could distribute the chores between us. You always do such a great job at ***, so I’d love it if you could take responsibility for that.”
  • Just because somebody is fragile and anxious doesn’t mean that you must shelter and mollycoddle them from all challenging conversations. Remember, you have a right to assert your needs and boundaries too.

4. Communicating with someone who is quick to anger and aggression.

  • Find a time to chat where you’re both feeling comfortable and calm. Try to block out some space where you’re not going to be interrupted or distracted.
  • Remind yourself that someone’s emotional reaction is their choice – you cannot make someone angry, they decide to react in that way.
  • Practice responding vs reacting. Model the sort of behaviour you want to see in others. It’s unfair to hold other people to different standards. Get smart about the situations and conversations where you react instead of respond. Reacting calmly when someone else gets angry is also a helpful way to de-escalate the situation.
  • Hear your partner out. Allow them to express their needs and boundaries and listen and understand them. Sometimes it can be useful to reframe what they’re saying in your own words back to them, such as “I hear you, and it sounds like…. Is that right?”
  • Create space. If someone does get angry, let them know that they’re free to feel how they feel, but if that energy or emotion is not helpful to your communication, step back from it. Give them space to allow them to feel their feelings, and suggest you pick up the chat a little later.
  • Don’t take shit from them. If they start using belittling, demeaning language or threatening behaviour, you must set clear boundaries that that sort of thing is not okay. Remove yourself from the space if ever you feel unsafe.
    • Reach out for support if you’re experiencing aggressive/abusive treatment from a partner. It’s never ok.Here are a few Aussie hotlines to call if you’re looking for immediate guidance and support:
      NSW Domestic Violence Line :
      1800 65 64 63
      1800RESPECT : 1800 737 732
      MensLine : 1300 78 99 78

If you’re looking to level up in relationships and work on your communication skills, why not check out our new online course, GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER. There are 10 awesome sessions packed with video content, activity sheets, meditations and more. Check it out here.

This post was written in collaboration with Indigo Psychologist, Ayanthi and Ash (Indigo’s Content Manager). If you’re keen to do a little more work on your communication skills, you’ll love our online course, Get Your Shit Together! Or you can get customised guidance by booking a one-on-one session with one of our Indigo practitioners.

Ayanthi Indigo Psychologist

ALICE FITZPATRICK
Senior Psychologist

SHAUNTELLE BENJAMIN
Psychologist

LIZ KIRBY
Counsellor & Coach

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