How to Deal with Difficult People – California Southern Baptist Convention

How to Deal with Difficult People

Published May 30, 2023

Speak well of others, even when they speak poorly about you.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” – Romans 12:14.

I’m going to tell you a shocking fact. Brace yourself. Ready?…

…Some people don’t like you.

It is hard to believe, isn’t it? I was as shocked as you when I first made this discovery, but it’s true; some people just don’t like you. You are a leader, and people who dislike others tend to focus on leaders. How do we handle difficult people? From Romans 12:14, we should bless those who are mad. Scripture uses the word “persecute,” which claims the mistreatment is unwarranted – you didn’t deserve it. The word for “bless” is the same Greek word we use for “eulogy.” Eulogy is a good word. It’s often reserved for funerals. When you go to a funeral, and someone stands up to deliver the eulogy, it is something kindly said about the deceased. I was at a funeral when, during the eulogy, a woman in the crowd said (loud enough for everyone else to hear), “I think I came to the wrong funeral.” We should speak well of others, even when their words about us are unwarranted.

Develop the heart of a cheerleader. Turn bullies into buddies.

One day in class, a seventh-grader named Billy told his teacher, “Nick has been bullying me all morning. I think you should call his mom.” The teacher replied, “How well do you know Nick?” He knew him well. He went on to tell the teacher about his problems at home, how his dad has a drinking problem, and he misses school a lot for no reason. The teacher asked, “How bad do you think things were last night for him if he’s treating you like this today?” The student thought about that question. After lunch, Billy moved his desk closer to Nick’s and helped him with all his work. Billy had turned a bully into a buddy. What happened? Empathy! Difficult people often mirror pain. A leader can develop the heart of a cheerleader when they choose to respond with compassion rather than indifference. When a problematic person is focusing their pain upon you, don’t take it personally (easier said than done), and seek to understand where their pain is coming from. When someone is acting hysterical, it is almost always historical. If you can touch that and help them through the source of their pain, you have turned a bully into a buddy.

Empathy should be followed by action.

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” – Romans 12:20.

I once thought this verse meant that if I were nice to a difficult person, they’d feel so guilty that the guilt would burn their head! That’s not the meaning. When this was written, people didn’t have matches to start a fire in their homes on cold nights. They could use some coal from their neighbor and start a fire. What God’s Word is teaching is when your Empathy should have action. You put empathy into action and let God work on their heart. Actually, this passage is speaking to “our” heart– not “theirs.”

Difficult people are often the result of their environment and painful past. Leadership is influence. If you can empathize with the source of their pain and act, you will create a flood of influence in that person’s life. Wouldn’t that look like Jesus?