Navigating life and relationships through 2020 has been like running an obstacle course with surprises at every turn. Sometimes it’s felt as if we have been cast on the reality television game show Survivor, where we are challenged daily to “Outwit. Outplay. Outlast,” so we can live to fight another day.

Outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting are strategies not limited to television game shows. We are often provoked to engage in gamesmanship in order to survive encounters with difficult people, both at work and at home.

I have decided that difficult people don’t always know when they are being challenging and unreasonable. On the other hand, some difficult people thrive on being confrontational and crotchety as a way to assert and maintain control.

No matter the level of awareness of the obnoxious behavior, when encountering a difficult person at work or in personal relationships, I try to remember these strategies that keep me in the game and safe from elimination.

Rule number 1: A difficult person’s behavior says everything about him and nothing about you. Difficult people have their own agendas and their own baggage, none of which is related to you. While they may want to attribute all of their woes to you and blame you for some failures of their own making, don’t fall for it. It’s hard, but don’t take the bullying and pushiness personally. It’s really not about you.

Rule number 2: Control your behavior. It is easy to fall into a trap, forget rule number 1, and respond in anger when someone is pushing your buttons. But you will be happier with yourself if you resist the urge. Avoid engaging with the person altogether whenever possible. Whatever you do, don’t act defensively; instead stay calm and treat the person with respect. That may or may not diffuse the situation, but you will know you’ve done your part and maintained your own self-respect. Plus, you will have earned the respect of those who witnessed your calm under pressure and your choosing to take the high road.

Rule number 3: Set limits. It is okay to walk away from an argument. You have a right to express that you won’t stand to be treated disrespectfully.

Rule number 4: The last word goes to the one who is most stubborn, not the most correct. It is good to remember that difficult people love to have the last word in an argument. This doesn’t make them any more right than you. Just more obnoxious. Consider it a win to exit the conversation with your integrity, cool head, and dignity in check.

I’ll conclude with this inspirational quote: “In order to be the best, you have to be able to handle the worst.” Game. Set. Match. The tribe has spoken.   

I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.