How to Mindfully Deal with Difficult People (and Save the World)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 · 14 Comments

There’s a short practice I’ve been doing for a while that is so simple, and yet so impactful when interacting with difficult people. It brings a sense of balance, and perspective in the moment, it’s almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, California which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver’s brain I think you’d see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high.

One day while I was driving, I was cut off by some sports car, who seemed to be speeding, and weaving in and out of traffic. My teeth locked together, my shoulders tensed, and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO.

In that moment I realized how tense I was, and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars too.

That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important.

My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, “What is it that I’m actually needing right now?” The word “ease” came to mind.

So I said…

  • May I be at ease…” (Me)
  • May you be at ease…” (The out of control sports car driver)
  • May we all be at ease…” (All the drivers on the road)

Doing this simple three part practice took less than 30 seconds, and rapidly transformed my experience from disconnection and rage into connection and balance.

To me, happiness means that I have a rock solid internal sense that no matter what comes my way, I’m going to be okay.

This practice gives me that feeling. It makes me move beyond seeing the other driver as just another jerk on the road (in other words, an object) and instead as a person. It gives me the experience that I’m actually okay.

You don’t have to be on the road to test drive this. I strongly suggest giving this a shot when dealing with difficult people and seeing what you notice.

Warning: It just might create a whole lot of peace in yourself.

And you know what Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Peace in oneself, peace in the world.


Elisha Goldstein, PhD

Author of Uncovering Happiness and co-author of MBSR Every Day

Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy


  1. KIm Magro
    January 25, 2018 at 7:52 am

    I am working with a women who is a bully. What I just realized is I want her to change. I don’t have control over that. I have been out of work for 4 months on medical leave and realized the reduced stress of being in that space. How do I mange to remain in a peaceful state in this environment? I am getting ready to return to work and feeling stressed thinking about it. My manager does not like confrontation so it has not been helpful discussing it with her. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    • February 5, 2018 at 11:56 am

      Hi Kim,

      I’m so sorry that you have such adversity in your work environment. I want to suggest something that may seem radical, but consider it. This difficult person in your environment may just be your greatest mindfulness teacher. In A Course in Mindful Living (ACIML), the entire first month is dedicated to learning how to relax your nervous system. We go on the lookout for the body bracing and learn how to soften it. In month 2 and 3 we go deeper into mindfulness and self-compassion.

      To learn how to relax, we need the opposite to point out when we’re not – stress. To learn self-compassion, we need to experience suffering. Hence, s/he is giving you these opportunities.

      Ultimately, if an environment is really depleting, it’s sometimes good to be aware of more enriching environments. If you want or have to stay in this environment and there is a big issue and your manager isn’t able to handle it, then HR can be a next move. But in the meantime, I’d see what it’s like to see this person as you teacher, giving you opportunities to train yourself in relaxing, self-compassion and compassion.

      I hope this is supportive.



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