People who chronically stress you out and upset you may have profound difficulties of their own, and you may very well have sympathy for them, but it isn't wise to play with them like you wouldn't play with a rattlesnake. They are dangerous to your well-being.
If the person upsetting you is someone you work with, it might be worth the trouble to move to a new department or different company. You can try the techniques below, but some people will refuse to cooperate and will simply suck the life out of you and then move on to the next person foolish enough or nice enough to spend time with them. These people are not very common, but they exist, and you should not be naïve enough to let them cause you more stress than you need.
The following are some simple methods you can try with the person. Often they will work, and it will greatly reduce the amount of stress you get from your relationship. But if not, weigh the cost: If it costs you less stress to phase them out of your life than it would to keep them around, start phasing.
1. Don't assume anything. No matter how good your intuition is, you're still wrong sometimes. And your actions ensue from your assumptions. You can create an antagonistic relationship with someone with assumptions alone. How do you keep from assuming? Simple: Ask for the information you want.
2. Be honest. This may be something you'll have to start doing gradually. First pay attention; notice how you habitually withhold certain kinds of information from that person. And then slowly say some of that stuff. It may cause some trouble, but it may also change things for the better. Either the person will upset you less, or they will pull themselves out of your life and interact with you less because they don't like your honesty. Either way, you're better off.
3. Listen well. When the person has something to say, especially in response to your honesty, listen as well as you can. Really make the effort to give them your full attention and let them know they've been heard and understood, without arguing back, without saying, "yes but" or trying to defend yourself, or whatever. You might be able to do all that stuff at some other time, but when you're listening, just listen.
4. Don't avoid confrontations. It just prolongs the agony. If you have something you need to talk about, sit down now and think it through and then talk to the person. Get it over with.
5. Don't talk when you're upset. When people are upset, they are less rational than when they are calm. I wish I had known about this thirty years ago. It would have saved me hundreds of hours of misery. Having reactive adrenal glands and not knowing this rule means I spent hours trying to argue and solve problems when I was way too upset to be effective.
If you aren't used to the idea, it feels wrong to take a break in the middle of an argument. But you'll like the result. After you calm down (which takes about twenty minutes), you'll sometimes realize what you were angry about isn't that big of a deal after all and you can calmly discuss the problem and solve it quickly, whereas you could have yelled about it for two hours and gotten absolutely nowhere. Or worse.
Avoid making assumptions. Gradually increase your level of honesty. Listen well. Get those confrontations over with as soon as you can. And don't talk when you're upset. These methods can help you have less upset and anxiety in your life when dealing with difficult people, and less stress hormones in your bloodstream in the long run. And that will be good for your health, good for your brain (stress destroys brain cells), and good for your important relationships.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.