3 Tips for Managing Mean People

By Pastor Matt Anderson


With a show of hands, how many of you deal with irritable people on an ongoing basis?
Thought so.
I recently needed some assistance at a local hardware store, and the employee I approached acted like I was interrupting his hot bath. The cantankerous clerk seemed frustrated that I would bother him, totally unconcerned that his non-verbal gestures alone (which included eye-rolling, head-shaking, and sighs loud enough to wake the neighbors) would give his store a sub-par reputation for customer service. I was tempted to stoop to his level by matching his unkindness with a healthy dose of my own, and in all honestly, I probably did.
There’s no getting around it—managing “mean” people is a part of life, an axiom which presents each of us with a three-fold choice. A) We can simply accept mean-spirited treatment and hope to coexist without becoming a doormat. B) We can adopt the tone of an unpleasant individual—and thereby become one. C) Or we find a way to engage grouchiness by welcoming the offensive actor toward a positive demeanor. Since option “C” is obviously ideal, here are three possible ways to get there.
1. Look in the mirror.
Like begets like. If people are regularly grouchy around you, it’s possible that you’re setting that tone. Do you see the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt? Do you look to affirm, appreciate, and recognize the good in others before wrinkling your brow at their flaws? Do you prioritize tasks and goals over relationships? Do you take time to make others feel important? Or do you avoid a friendly greeting, fly off the handle, or generally fail to manage your own emotions when life doesn’t meet your expectations.

Grumpiness is like contagious body odor. It’s both preventable and communicable. While I may naturally stink after working out, I’m also responsible for managing my body’s natural processes so that they don’t inconvenience or nauseate others. Likewise, if I fail to deal with the “odor” of my attitude, it sets a harsh tone in relationships, and I discover my own lack of emotional self-management in the attitudes of the people around me. Being yourself isn’t good enough—be the best version of yourself, which includes the self-awareness, sensitivity, and self-control to come across with kindness, assertiveness, and empathy.


2. Call it out.
Sometimes, calling attention to a person’s unpleasantness can help them to consider how they’re coming across, even though they should certainly know better. Instead of getting drawn into a crabby contest, put your discomfort into assertive yet respectful words. Have I offended you? Is that a bad question? Is something wrong? Is there someone else who should help me? Why did you throw that used Kleenex at my face? Any question that kindly and honestly says I notice that you’re not being very nice can help to set a new tone by holding up a mirror. Some won’t budge an inch even after seeing how they have come across. Others may appreciate a second chance and be easier to relate to.
3. Set a new tone.
Romans 2:4 says that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. God doesn’t rely on grudges and grumpiness to get what He wants from us. Among the range of possible responses that God could choose for engaging rebellious creatures, He opted for Kindness, which gets the most out of people and build bridges where other postures slam doors. He died for those who were operating as His enemies, which is foreign to how humans think.
So try to set a God-like tone when you see people acting like humans! Pray for the ability to see in them what God saw in us when He gave everything to win our “grumpy” hearts back. Send a gift to someone who would least expect generosity from you. Give compliments in order to affirm people liberally and often. Ask a caring question that honors the human worth and dignity of a cranky person, as if there’s more to them than their bad attitude. How is your day going today? Are you feeling well? Are you looking forward to the weekend? Or to take it up another notch, I’m a firm believer in prayer, so is there anything going on in your life that I can pray for?
That’s why we launched the “Surprise Acts of Kindness” campaign this month in the Bismarck/Mandan area. We want to set a positive tone with our community, especially among those who see the church as grumpy. Our spokesperson “Captain Kindness” has made public appearances to raise awareness, and is now being invited to attend events and functions of numerous community organizations. Everyone wants a more positive workplace, home, or school, so why not volunteer to help set that tone?
We teach our children not to act however they feel so that they don’t go to the bathroom in strange places or lash out when they don’t get their way. Yet many adults remain childish when it comes to kindness. Taking steps like these can help people grow up quickly and lead to surprising results!

Learn more about the Surprise Acts of Kindness.