When Dale Carnegie wrote his classic book on human relations, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he left out a chapter; it wasn’t finished on time, so the book was published without it. The chapter was supposed to cover the subject of dealing with people you cannot win with.
For most people, when you treat them fairly, they treat you fairly in return. But as you know, there exists in this world a small percentage of people who will simply take advantage of you when you try to treat them fairly. There are people who will play games with you, deceive you, and some who will actively prevent you from making your relationship work. Carnegie’s unwritten chapter was for the times when “somebody has to go to jail, be spanked, divorced, knocked down, sued in court.”
Even beyond those extreme cases, every once in awhile you’ll get stuck working with or having to interact with someone who continually brings you down or in some way makes your life difficult. They may seem to be very nice people. They might smile and come across with a lot of charm. But the end result of your interactions are: You’re worse off. You try to make things work, you try to be fair, and you get the short end of the stick every time. You’ve tried to talk with them, perhaps, and it doesn’t make things better, and they probably make you feel bad for saying anything.
I have no fancy methods for dealing with these people. You can’t really deal with them. If they’re doing something illegal, you can certainly call the police, but most are too clever to do something illegal. My wife uses a good analogy in her speeches. She says trying to make things work with these people is like trying to wrestle with someone who is covered with mud: You’re going to get muddy. No matter what you do or how well you do it or how noble your intentions, you’ll get muddy.
So instead of trying to make things work out with these people, the goal is to avoid dealing with them at all. Go for minimal impact. Have as little to do with them as you can get away with (without causing yourself trouble). Ideally, you would eliminate them from your life completely. Stop calling, stop visiting, stop being nice. You don’t have to be mean about it. Just fade them into the background and then all the way out of the picture.
I know this isn’t a perfect world. Sometimes you’ll have to keep interacting with someone who won’t let you make things work. So go as far as you can to minimize their effect on your life. Talk to them as little as you can, look at them as little as you can. Focus your attention on your purpose and on the rest of the people around you. When you come across someone and nothing works with him, cut your losses. Don’t waste any more effort trying. This is a big world full of wonderful people and a few bad apples. Concentrate your attention on the good people and waste as little of your attention as you can on the ones who bring you down. You can do it a little at a time and it will improve your attitude. And if it improves your attitude, it’s good for your relationships with your family and friends, and it’s good for your health.
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.