Handle Difficult People During the Holidays

Holidays bring families together. They also bring the dread of dealing with the difficult people in your life. Learn how to handle them here!

Difficult people…we love them, we hate them…we hate them more.  And here they are across from us at the Thanksgiving table. Or completely unmuted on our Christmas Zoom.

The holidays can bring about a lot of o anxiety when you have no choice but to be surrounded by someone or someones with who your values do not click.



Sometimes we can simply avoid these difficult people, particularly if we are strategic.  Maybe this means we stay by the bar if we know they don’t drink or huddle with others you know they won’t hang with.

Sometimes though, we cannot avoid them.  You know they freakin’ live for the drama and they will find you to create it!  Politics, religion, manifesting micro-aggressions at every turn.  These are the people who ruthlessly do not care and will let you know it.  

So how do you deal with these difficult people?  Let’s dive in…


Mindful Engagement:

When we think of “mindful engagement” I want you to think of simply being polite, knowing you want to acknowledge the difficult people, and then move onto the better conversation. 

Take it from Dilbert…


I’d call what Dilbert did here “harmony in disagreement.”  He validates the employee’s experience while the employee knows he is in the wrong and is ready to defend himself.  This happens all the time.  How can we be mindful of difficult people when they challenge us in ways that can feel sometimes downright threatening to our values and beliefs? 

We can do this by finding a simple way to engage our personal equilibrium and that is through something I’ve been teaching clients for years called SIFT…


SIFT through Conversation:

When you find yourself face to face with difficult people, remember to “SIFT” through the conversation and you’ll feel relaxed because you have this secret weapon to defend your emotional well-being.

Here’s what SIFT stands for:

STRAIGHT: I mean, straight to the point here.  Keep the conversation polite and friendly and on a straight path.  If the difficult people are leading you straight off your path, bring them back to where you see their point going like, “Is that where you saw the election going?”  They’ll feed off of this enough for them to feel heard by you with no hard feelings or agreeing to disagree.  Then you can move onto the next step…

INTERESTED: Curiosity saves the cat here.  Be naturally curious about what they are saying.  You do not have to agree with them.  Say things like “that’s interesting,” “how do you feel about that?” “curious that you think that way,” etc.  You aren’t agreeing or disagreeing.  You stay interested and let them finish their point…and only theirs.  We don’t need to add fuel to any fires here…then we can be stuck with them, yikes!

FOCUSED: Our focus here is not on their values, thoughts, or beliefs we disagree with.  The focus is on the exit.  Once they finish a thought you can end by saying something like, “It was nice chatting with you, I’m going to say hello to Aunt Lisa,” or “Sorry to cut you short, but I really want to go get a piece of pie before my dad eats it all.”  If you are really stuck and have no shame, the ol’ “Geez, grandma’s turkey is really churning my gut…I better find a bathroom…like NOW!” Lol…hey, whatever works if you’re really stuck there. 

TIME-LIMITED: You don’t want to waste your precious time on someone difficult (or let’s be frank, just a plain asshole). Remember to keep an eye on the time and your part in the conversation.  We don’t want to feed into their banter.  We want to keep it short so we can move on and talk to someone who doesn’t grind our gears…or maybe to eat that delicious piece of mom’s homemade apple pie.



This holiday season, I hope you can use this post to your advantage whether you are with difficult people virtually or in-person.  Tell us on social how it went!

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