How to Listen to that Difficult Person in Your Life

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When my friend Rachel Britton, author of Tough to Love: How to Find Peace in Difficult Relationships sent me this post for you, I was delighted. Rachel gives us such a powerful but counter-intuitive way to listen when we don’t like what we’re hearing. Make sure to read to the end for a giveaway of her book. Please welcome Rachel!

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If you’re like me, you don’t want to listen to a difficult person in your life. 

I find myself groaning about that person giving their point of view in the meeting. I avoid making eye contact, and especially conversation, with the relative sitting across from me at the dinner table. Or, I try to walk past the woman at church pretending I haven’t seen her. At the most I force a smile and a “how are you,” which doesn’t look like it’s coming through clenched teeth.

I have to say, it’s exhausting dealing with my emotions when I don’t want to listen. Unfortunately, often, we have little choice. The most difficult people are usually closest to us.

So, how do we listen without getting worn out? It is important to take the time and let our work colleagues, family members, or sisters at church have their say. But, there’s another lesson in how we listen that can be learned, and that is realizing it’s what we listen to that can trip us up.

We need to be aware of how we allow the words we hear to affect us.

I can pick up on one small phrase or word said to me, which blows up in my head. Before I know it, I’m wrestling with accusations not actually spoken to me.

“I’ll send you the details again,” she said innocently. Yet, I didn’t just hear “again.” I heard:  “You’re so disorganized and unprofessional.” “You’ve made me do extra work.“ “You’re such a loser.” “Can’t you get your act together?”

Unfortunately, my internal monologue didn’t stop there. I repeated it to my husband when he walked through the door after a long day of meetings. I’m chopping carrots like I’m using an axe and fifteen minutes later I could see from his shoulders this was not the way to unwind for the day.

So, how do we listen without finding ourselves blowing everything out of proportion, complaining about our friend to someone else, and learning to let go of words that hurt?

Thankfully we have a heavenly Father who we can talk to, who listens to what we have to say,  and who promises to bring peace into the situation. Not only that, we can trust him to speak on our behalf.

The Bible, in Philippians 4, encourages us to take our anxiety about anything and everything, including our frustration over words spoken to us, to God in prayer.

And in Psalm 109 we have an example of David turning to God about the people who “opened their mouths against me.” They lied, said hateful words, and made accusations. David didn’t hold back in his anger. “May his children be wandering beggars,” he said about his enemy! We can be like David and let it all out to God. After all, God knows everything we’re thinking, feeling, and feel like saying and doing to the other person.

Praying is a safe place to talk about that difficult person. What we say doesn’t go any further with God. We can burden him with our woes, instead of burdening those we love. And God, who lives in relationship, fully understands relationships both perfect and imperfect.

So, prayer isn’t telling God what’s new. Prayer is letting God give us a new perspective, and that includes a new perspective on the words we hear.

Just like David, after his outpouring, we have to ask God for his help. He says: “Lord, help me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” We need to ask God for help to get over the words we’ve heard that hurt us, and a fresh view on the words we think we’ve heard.

Prayer is not just pouring out our pain and frustrations, it is allowing God to pour in His peace.

We have to trust God. We must give everything over to God and believe He will deal fairly with what has been said to us, because He cares for us. And like in Psalm 109, if there has been any wrongdoing said against us, God is just. Like David, we can ask God to “not remain silent” on the matter.

As my finger hovered over the keyboard waiting to tap out an angry reply, I let my thoughts travel upwards. “Lord…”

It’s not easy to let go of what’s been said to us and leave it in God’s hands, but it’s better than taking the matter into our own hands.

Unhealthy reactions are likely to lead to unhealthy actions. With God, we can let go and move on. And, we’ll feel so much better for it. We’ll be freed from those exhausting emotions.

Next time you listen and words trip you up, catch your reactions before they go too far. Take them to God, pour out your pain, and ask for His perspective and peace. It may take more than one time, but persevere in prayer.

Giveaway: How do you think prayer can change your hard-to-listen-to conversations? Leave your comment for a chance to win a copy of Rachel’s excellent book, Tough to Love: How to Find Peace in Difficult Relationships.

 

Rachel is a British-born, author, blogger, and speaker. She helps women pray naturally and become comfortable and confident in their conversation with God. Raised on the east coast of England, Rachel moved to New England. She now lives in New York City with her husband. They have three young adult children. Connect with Rachel at rachelbritton.com

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Comments

  1. I have a problem. My son phones me every Sunday. He lives quite far away. My daughter died a few years ago, so my son is my only living child. Like his dad who,passed away, he is a man of few words. I know he loves me, but when he phones, he doesn’t have much to say. He doesn’t share much about his life, and he is not really interested in mine. I end up babbling and eventually, we say we love each other and we hang up.
    How can I handle these awkward converstaions? I have told him to only phone when he wants to. Not to feel that the weekly call,is an obligation or burden.
    I would rather not have this call at all. We do text during the week, very short little exchanges which I feel better about.
    Any suggestions? Before I say something on the phone that I will regret? Thank you.

    • Linda, I am sorry to read of the loss of your daughter and your husband – and a sister and father to your son. And then you have the weekly awkward conversation with your son. If I can be so bold as to encourage you to keep up with the phone calls. I have a similar experience in my life. My husband lives a long way from his mom. We live here in the States and she is in England. He phones her every Sunday, too. Not that he tells her much either! Sometimes, I think we women are much better at chatting and giving information and details. So, I would continue with what you feel is babbling, which I am sure it is not. And, I think it is great that you express your love at the end of the call.

  2. Going to God helps. We need the Truth, not the jumping to conclusions and the endless loop our thoughts put us through. I think God sometimes shines a light on this person’s background, and maybe we will have sympathy or empathy for this person, or understand them better. Sometimes God just gives us peace or the ability to let the comments not stick.

  3. I feel I am a highly sensitive person so I take to heart what people say & also over analyze what was said and feel like I did some thing wrong. Especially with hard to deal with people

  4. I feel going to God in this prayers shows Him that we truly want there to be peace. He knows the situation already but when we come to Him asking for His guidance to lead us peacefully dealing with these “sandpaper people”, I feel He wants to help us.

  5. Ah yes. He knows it all already so why not take it to Him? He is the best confidant and it is comforting that everything we say goes nowhere. It won’t be repeated. And no matter how bad my thoughts or feelings, He loves me just the same. How wonderful! Thank you for this word. The book sounds like a great read!

  6. You have made me reframe my thinking of how to deal with the difficult people in my life
    I am surrounded it would seem.
    I will buy the book in order to have more tools in my tool box. Thank you. You have given me something to think about. I’m going to have a nice, long chat with God about it. FIRST!
    God bless
    Amy in santa barbara

  7. This was a good reminder that the Lord is the One with whom we can share every thought and emotion. We transfer all of that to Him and then He graciously gives us peace!

  8. Sometimes the difficulty in hearing hard-to-hear conversations is about the tone of the conversation, the way things are said. So praying in advance, during and after these talks is helpful to guard my heart, cover and guide any spirit of offence and help me use wisdom in how I respond (slow to speak, help me Lord 🙂 ).

  9. Thanks for your thoughts, TD. Scripture reminds us that our battle is a spiritual one. I like to be reminded of this because then I realize it is the enemy who wants to destroy our relationships, not the other person. But, God is all-powerful in the battle.

  10. Thanks for your post and the tips about how to listen to difficult people. I have a hard time with this too. I think prayer helps so much because we need God’s Spirit to turn our minds away from our problems with people and back to seeing those people as having problems too. I tend to make it all about me instead of remembering how the other person is going through stuff I have no idea about.

    • Megan, it’s hard isn’t it because it does feel like it’s all about us. But, as you say, prayer helps – we can keep coming back to God until we find relief and see what other people may be going through.

  11. Praying can help me access God’s wisdom and grace to better cope with a difficult person and their conversations and to realize I only need his love and acceptance . .. . Hebrews 4:16 – God tells me to come boldly to his throne of grace where I will find mercy and help in my time of need.

    • Jay – the book has practical steps to follow, which can be used over and over again because, unfortunately, when one relationship improves, there always seems to be another one that needs some work.

  12. Prayer is a reminder that you are not in “battle” with that person. Prayer is a tool to help us to remember to be slow to anger, slow to respond, and quick to listen. Prayer can help to be that time buffer we all need at times to pause and think before we reply/respond. I agree that we often times latch on to a specific word or partial phrase and we miss the whole because if we’re honest, we’ve stopped listening at that point and are now formulating our response already. Praying to God and asking for His help and guidance should be our first resort, not our last. Getting into the habit of seeking God first in the little things will be a natural reaction when we are faced with the bigger things. Great devotional today. Thanks for sharing and for the reminder!
    Have a great day!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, TD. Scripture reminds us that our battle is a spiritual one. I like to be reminded of this because then I realize it is the enemy who wants to destroy our relationships, not the other person. But, God is all-powerful in the battle.

  13. Oh my this spoke to my heart! I am so guilty of unloading on my husband. I don’t even let him get home first! He calls when he is leaving work to let me know he is on his way and I blast out my frustrating people story of the day to him. Ugh. Prayer, speaking to God first would let me vent to the one who knows me best and who is always there to listen. His peace could be mine right then and there instead of stewing all day and then adding extra burden to my already tired loving hubby. What a blessing to take it to the Lord, all of it! Thank you 🙂

    • Roberta, thanks for sharing. Your comment made me smile, of course, because I know exactly what you mean. Would love to be a fly on the wall and hear how your conversation changes with your husband when you put into practice speaking to God first. I know it will make a difference.

  14. Wow! I needed to hear this today and everyday. As a public school educator, it’s hard to take criticism from those who do not get how hard you are working, for their children. It truly is a service, but one that I absolutely love! During this season of state testing when my patience gets low and my anxiety gets high, I need to stop and turn it all over to our Lord and Heavenly Father. I don’t have to take on the world and analyze every single word that is spoken to me…I live in His Kingdom, not my kingdom. Let go and Let God. Thanks for the great words of wisdom!

    • Michele – glad that you love your job. “Lord, during this busy time for Michele, give her Your protection from the criticism spoken to her, the words that hurt or cause her to question herself and her work. As Michele turns to You, give her peace and Your perspective. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

  15. Thanks for this inspiring devotion ” to let go and let God to take over.” Thanks for the statements of what prayer does for us – “it gives us a new way to look on the words we hear and allows us to let God pour in peace.” I love the illustration of God pouring peace in us. “By leaving our burdens at Calvary”,God will “pour” into us His perfect peace.

  16. I know prayer can change my hard-to-listen-to conversations by praying before the encounter or during the encounter for God to quickly open up my heart with love and patience; for Him to open up my mind with no preconceived anger or words ready on my lips to fight. I know prayer can change the heart and delivery of the difficult person. I want God to open my heart and mind so that the devil cannot get in my head! Prayer can help me get equipped with the Armor of God so that the devil’s flaming arrows will not penetrate my mind or body or soul with anger or confusion. If only I would remember to practice this all the time.

    Well……..I guess that should be my prayer – to remember to pray all the time for God’s protection on my thoughts and responses. I Thes. 5:17. Thank you for such great words of wisdom.

    • Deanna – as I started to read your comment, I thought “this is someone who is praying continually.” Then I read your desire to remember to practice this all the time. It sounds to me like you are doing a great job.

  17. I am so encouraged by the reminder to take your thoughts to God in prayer before reacting, This is especially important with email and text when words are often misunderstood! Thank you!

  18. Thank you so much for this! Perfect timing, and a greatly needed reminder!
    I’m so thankful God can handle my emotions and sort through them with me.
    I REALLY needed this today!

  19. I pray often to be quick to listen, slow to speak. It’s the knee jerk reactions that cause me problems.

    • I’m with you there, Lisa. Those knee jerk reactions can do a lot of damage but recognizing them is half the battle. Thankfully, the other half of the battle is taking them to God and letting him fight for us and with us in overcoming those reactions.

  20. I am glad that I am not alone in having a tough time listening to some people. looking forward to reading more to help me.

  21. Through prayer Gods word and Holy Spirit are able to work in us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we are able to experience the shift from discomfort and anger to understanding and peace. As I realize God loves this child as he loves me. When I remember that God loves this person the same as he loves me- it reminds me that I COULD be this to someone at times. I COULD be the difficult person to someone because I’m imperfect and mis-speak, speak without thinking and don’t always consider everyone else’s feelings before blurting. I pray the prayer for others I wish were prayed over my misgivings.

    • Adrienne – isn’t it amazing how taking everything to God in prayer and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, we gain a better and more godly perspective – God’s loving perspective – on our relationships and how we react within them? Thank you for your comment.

  22. Praying before reacting can lead to praying before being the person who starts an abrasive conversation. Everyone wins.

  23. Sadly I react when I should be quiet. I need to pray, seek God immediately and humble myself especially with the sandpaper folks God has placed in my life to grow me in grace. How often am I the sandpaper to others? I needed this encouragement today!