We all eventually find ourselves trying to improve our skills for handling difficult people. There is likely even someone you know who sets you off like an atomic bomb. Maybe they constantly criticize you, put you down in front of others, take credit for your good work, constantly kiss up to the boss, or can never admit they are wrong. That list could go on forever.
In fact, it is not really about “them”. It is about us and the story we tell ourselves. We call that story reality. We’re the one experience the difficulty. Our reality is the one being impacted (threatened) in a way we see as negative. We are the ones looking to do something about it.
First things first – We must accept that we perceive the other person as difficult because they threaten us in some way. It is usually our self-worth, but may be other needs (safety, security, social belonging, status etc.). Figure out what need is being threatened. From there, successfully handling difficult people requires our focus in two underlying areas.
The Seat of Control: If it is all about them, you’re completely screwed and can do nothing to improve your situation. I’m not willing to go there and you shouldn’t either. If we place blame for our difficult reality, on the other person, then we are also placing the responsibility and all ability to make change it in their hands.
Imagine your boss hates you for no reason at all and it is making your life a living hell. One day he/she inquires why you were making jokes about ____ at the holiday party to a person whose child suffered from ____. By the way, your boss’s child also suffers from ____. Whoops…
All of a sudden your boss can go from being a difficult person to a person to someone you owe an apology to. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Remember, you always had the control to change your situation, yet you conceded that power to others by placing blame in your boss’s hand and not seeking out the information needed to alter your reality.
The Story we Sell Ourselves: What we call reality is really the story we tell ourselves about the world around us (as we now know it). We tend to look at “reality” as an absolute because that works for us. In fact, the story we call reality is constantly evolving.
Need proof? …the world was proven to be flat for tens of thousands of years. All it takes is a little new information and our story of reality completely changes.
Action to Take: Once you accept that handling difficult people is really about ourselves; you have a chance to succeed at improving your situation. Here are four things you can do next to help you handle difficult people.
1. Read and heed the following quote.
You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of. – Jim Rohn
2. Be Quick to Empathize.
This doesn’t mean forgetting about you. Empathy is seeing the story of our reality through other people’s eyes. Empathy’s value lays in your ability to better understand the world around you while you empathize. It is invaluable in any circumstance.
In the case of handling difficult people, it doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your point of view. Instead, seek to widen your perspective. Figure out what story of reality the other person is going by. Then, objectively ask what part you play in that.
3. Be Actively Optimistic.
Life is not always what we consider ideal. Also, optimism is not about pretending everything is great when it isn’t. If you find yourself thinking everything is perfect, take off those rose colored glasses and stop lying to yourself.
Optimism is making sure your “story of reality” includes a few paragraphs about how to use what you see to achieve something of value.
JR Tolkien captured the essence of optimism well. he did this in a scene of a Lord of the Rings movie where the wizard (Gandalf) tells Frodo not to question how he came on such difficult times, but instead to determine what to make of them. Check it out if you have time.
4. Look at the Big Picture.
Easier said than done…right? It is especially difficult when your situation is bad beyond measure. Your boss may really hate you for no reason, co-worker may be using you to get promoted, your neighbor may truly insane, natural disasters occur, and your best friend may simply be a bad person at heart. True evil does exist and bad things can happen to good people.
Having a “Big Picture” is a way of envisioning a future time when these things beyond your control will pass.
When I reflect on the three most horrible times in my life (infant daughter with no heartbeat, deciding it was best to divorce, my Mom dying of cancer), a few themes prevail.
- I had to step outside myself to make the decisions necessary.
- For the rest of us, life went on.
- How much and how long the rest of my life was impacted was up to me.
Think of it like this. The “Big Picture” is a notional looking glass through which you may spy safe harbor, productive futures, and happier times. Know that if you can see it in your mind’s eye, you can chart a course and navigate in to it. If you persist, you and whatever crew you bring with will arrive at the destination you envision.
Hope you enjoyed this post. Please comment and share your thoughts. You doing so will give me the drive I need to continue learning, growing, and writing.
Written By Seth Haigh
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