Every religion has them; the zealots, the know it alls, the gossip mongers, or complainers. You find people who are compelled to correct the way someone casts circles, or they need to give their pedigree with every introduction. Some speak of others as if its some daytime drama, while the complainers have nothing positive to say. In short, even these personalities are annoying, they are still human flaws that need to be dealt with.
The first step is promoting the idea in groups to speak out. This is a tough habit to cultivate because many people are not confrontational and don’t want a scene to develop. Speaking out doesn’t mean to insult them, or let anger fuel your angers. A more Zen-like approach works better, with setting aside your ego (and their ego) to focus on a solution to the problem.
Zealots feel as though doing things the ‘right way’ somehow validates their beliefs. They tend to delve into history for their ‘facts’ and press for others to follow the practices properly. I often ask them “why?”. Tradition was established for various reasons many of which were from superstition. A good story that illustrates this was a woman cut the end of her roast and was asked why. “My mother cooked it this way”. When the mother was asked why she did it, the answer was “My mother always cooked her roast this way.” Upon asking the grandmother why she cut off the end of her roast, she answered, “Oh, because the pan was too small and I had to cut it off to make it fit.”
With dealing with a zealot, you gain an opportunity to know why things are done. If they feel strongly you should do things a certain way, ask them why to get the reason. They might know some historical based cause for the action. Then ask them what happens if I do it your way? After all, we don’t have Hell or a Devil that sits to the side waiting for you to screw up.
Zealots can often be leaders of a group, that leave no option for other members to change or explore new ways. I would not suggest even dealing with these people. Leave the group and find another that allows freedom of expression.
Know it alls tend to talk…. a lot. They are often overbearing as well as condescending, making sure the lines of a pecking order are drawn in a group. The “I am better” message comes loud and clear. What generally bothers people about know it alls is that they don’t always know what they are talking about. They come out with so called facts that hold no founding or they simply make stuff up to somehow stroke an overinflated ego. So this leads to how to deal with them. An inflated ego is filled with nothing, having no subsistence. In reality, this ego is the most fragile, easily deflated, so the know it all tends to get easily insulted or upset whenever anyone else gets the attention. They feel inferior, and want to feel important so bad they can taste it.
Challenging their knowledge can often lead to them getting defensive. You’re asking them to prove their facts, or at least clarify things. Calling them on lies can help them adjust behavior so that they need to learn more in order to boast. Someone honest will answer truthfully “I don’t know that”, while a know it all will go so far as make stuff up.
Admitting how they are making you feel also helps with letting a know it all realize their efforts are hurting them as much as you. An example is saying “I learned something new today…” Only to have a know it all state “I knew that already.” You can reply, “And how do you suppose that statement was supposed to make me feel?” or “Well I suppose then there’s nothing more I can add to this conversation.” And walk away.
Gossip mongers also talk a lot. The slander and assumptions spread like wildfire, and often can lead to great misunderstandings. This is not the same as those needing to speak about someone with concern or even a need to resolve a problem. That is not gossip. Gossip is often with the purpose of setting people against another, ruining a reputation, and adding more lies (to expand the stories) to something worse than it is.
Depending on the gossip, ask yourself if the information spoken with understanding and caring, or is the gossiper wanting to entertain you with tearing down someone else? What is the purpose of the gossip?
Putting a quick end to the conversation by stating “I don’t listen to gossip” often shuts a gossip monger down. A gentler method is to ask questions that leads to understanding to the person being gossiped about. If someone tells you ‘that person has a drinking problem’, ask about the person having problems and shouldn’t someone help them? Some ‘drinking problems’ end up being nothing more than a single episode of drunk stupidity. (and doesn’t everyone have one of those?). Trying to focus on resolving conflicts than perpetuating them makes the world a more balanced place.
Complainers tend to focus too much on the negative, in their own lives as well as others. Although tedious to listen to, this behavior can also be a habit for them. They simply don’t know how to ‘think positive’. Complainer will also blow the wind out of your sails, or point out negative things in life rather than the positive.
Asking a complainer “What do you think you can do about it?” can lead them to being more proactive thinking. Certainly not overnight, but it can open the door to the thought that many problems should be seen as challenges, not just problems. Steering the conversation onto subjects that are positive helps too. I often ask them things like their hobbies or what they are good at, and chide them for putting themselves down if they do. “Don’t tell me that… or you may convince me”
Complainers also tend to be fatalistic, depressed, and often caught in a cycle to which they feel they cannot escape. Suggest to them on getting help, that depression is a treatable condition, and that outlook is everything. Life is not negative. Its negative, positive, and everything in between. Life just is. Life is (fill-in-the-blank).
I think with any difficult person, you need to take the stance of being pro-active, pro-solution, and put aside your own ego long enough to understand where the other person is coming from.