How to Deal With a Spiteful Friend
5 Tips for Calming Down a Spiteful Friend
Two and a half years ago I met one of the best friends I'll ever have in my entire life. It was not a "friends at first sight" situation. I was her new boss, she was the one staff member I was warned about by 3 different people. These people told me she was manipulative, bitter, unhappy, underhanded, and that's just to name a few. But, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, a decision I've never regretted.
It wasn't easy at first. She would come in to work with a frown on her face, she wouldn't talk to anyone, and when she did, it was always to complain. She would start sentences emphatically, "That's just not right! We can't let that happen! Someone needs to be held responsible!" And I would listen. Eventually, I started joking with her, giving her a hard time about whatever she was complaining about, letting her know I cared about her opinions, but I wasn't going to be bullied. By the next year, we were inseparable.
What I learned is this: she's an emotional person who feels strongly about things. She has insecurities and fears that sometimes make her put up a front. She tries to protect herself, taking on the offensive, rather than risking getting hurt. Do you have a friend like this? Here are a couple tips on how to deal:
- LISTEN, BUT DON'T REACT. From my experience, much of a person's anger can be dissipated simply by being allowed to get it off their chest. It's cathartic to talk about the things that bother us. That said, avoid fueling the fire. Let them talk while you listen, but don't react strongly to the things they're saying.
- QUESTION THEM KINDLY. One of the most common phrases I use with my friend is, "I understand completely why you're worked up about this. I see your point, but, I'm going to play the devil's advocate here, have you thought about _____________?" That's one of the best ways to try to get them to see the other side of the situation.
- KNOW WHEN TO USE HUMOR. There would be times my friend would come in and start ranting from the get-go. Sometimes, I knew I could stop the negativity simply by saying, "Wow, someone got up on the wrong side of bed! Did you forget your coffee this morning?" Then she would laugh and the ranting would stop.
- HAVE THEM THINK ABOUT THE DRAWBACKS OF WHATEVER ACTION THEY'RE TAKING. My friend can absolutely be spiteful. It's not because she's a mean person, but because when she feel hurt, she refuses to do anything that will help the person who hurt her, which in turn, often ends up coming back to haunt her. For instance, if someone at work was mad at her and wasn't talking to her, rather than try to mend the relationship, she would say, "Well, if Sue doesn't want to talk to me, fine! I won't talk to her!" When I see her cutting off her nose to spite her face, I call her on it! "Really? You aren't going to talk to one of your closest friends just because YOU messed up in the first place?" Sometimes people just need a dose of reality.
- REFUSE TO BE AFRAID OF THEM. I think that many people use spiteful or vengeful behavior because others don't know how to respond, and will cave rather than deal with the confrontation. It works. They get what they want because people are afraid of them. When you refuse to cave, and when you do it in a nonconfrontational, respectful, and patient manner, you've taken their power away from them.
The fact is, spiteful people are emotional people. This means they feel strongly in both good and bad ways. My friend is one of the best friends I have BECAUSE she is an emotional person who will support me until the day I die. It's easy to give up on friendships like these because they take a great deal of patience, but if you're willing to put in the effort, they can be some of the best friendships you'll ever have.