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Jeff Bradbury

How To Develop Compassion and Cope With Confrontational People

Coping with Confrontational People

At times, we may perceive people as confrontational and difficult, however, our own limited perception can also keep us in a discontented state. Sometimes, it’s necessary to exercise compassion as opposed to judgment. By doing so, you can learn how to interact better with all kinds of people.

By developing compassion, you can begin to understand the emotions of others as well as their perspectives and work towards helping them. When you’re willing to demonstrate kindness as well as respect other people and help them, you can build better relationships and learn how to get along with all kinds of personalities.

Developing compassion is critical for success in academia. Without compassion, we remain irritated and continue to judge and deflect our issues onto others with blame. In this way, we often hurt people and cause more problems because we are unable to align our internal processes to a positive and peaceful state. Furthermore, we create a negative spiral of energy because just the thought of facing the day causes anxiety and fear.

Developing Compassion Can Empower You and Your Organization

Organizational leaders who empower their teams empower the entire organization. Accordingly, it’s essential to develop compassion in the workplace so that peers can thrive and work better together.

In the healthcare field, for instance, changes are constant. Administrators must manage staff members, constantly changing laws, ever-evolving technology and regularly shifting treatment demands.

In this high-pressure setting, a work environment supported by a culture of compassion provides many benefits. It increases staff member satisfaction and improves organizational performance and patient treatment outcomes. Moreover, a work environment of understanding promotes collaboration, and – in a setting where workers respect each other – everyone’s readily willing to accept accountability and responsibility for their actions.

Encouraging Positive Communication, Collaboration, and Engagement

After a good night’s rest, most people start their day off in a pretty good mood. However, this can change as the day’s challenges come to light and your ongoing interactions with others influence the way that you feel.

To keep the day from falling into a negative spin, you must work on making positive communication with your peers the norm. This is especially important when working with people who seem to want to make everything a challenge.

When confronted with this type of challenging personality, avoidance – while intuitive – is not an effective solution. In these circumstances, is best to deal with the individual head-on.

In part, this includes using the right body language. For instance, during conversations with challenging individuals give them your undivided attention and remain calm to show them that you are fully present.

Also, look them in the eye. For most, this will make it harder to behave negatively, allowing you to deal with the situation at hand. Ideally, you can diffuse most confrontations when dealing with a difficult person by listening and understanding what they’re trying to express, rather than the verbatim meaning of their words.

A Culture of Compassion Starts at the Top and Works Its Way Down

The best way to promote a culture of compassion is to start within. In other words, you have to take care of yourself before you can uplift others. Mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation are a great way to start. Of course, even with the best self-care, it’s difficult to maintain an attitude of compassion when faced with a dog-eat-dog or an “it’s all about the results” organizational culture.

Unfortunately, this is the status quo for many organizations. This kind of go-getter attitude is entrenched in the American workplace. Nevertheless, there’s an increasing amount of compelling evidence showing that compassion in the work environment is highly beneficial. It improves organizational culture and, ultimately, profits.

A genuine organizational culture of compassion mitigates work-related obstacles and increases peer collaboration. It’s a win-win outcome for all stakeholders. Furthermore, a culture of compassion can reduce turnover, which is important in an academic environment where there are already too many students per classroom.

Sometimes, a confrontational person will remain combative, no matter what you try. In other words, they’re stubborn. It may seem that no matter how spiritual you are, negativity still finds its way into your sphere of influence. This is an unfortunate fact of life.

When this happens, it’s time to make an honest self-assessment. Of course, if you’re subject to repeated verbal or emotional abuse, you have to do something. You must figure out what’s actually happening, and honestly assess your role in the problem, whether it’s real or perceived.

In the most extreme cases, cutting off all engagement with this person and escalating intervention to management level may become necessary. However, you should only do so after you’ve done everything humanly possible to salvage your relationship with the person in question.

Most people dread dealing with confrontational individuals, but if you think about it, overcoming a challenging personality is an opportunity for growth for that person as well as yourself. As a responsible academic professional, it’s your duty to make the most of every peer relationship – even if it gets off to a rocky start.


Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

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