Hello SOTGC community,
I was recently asked how to deal with a difficult person. In fact, I’ve been getting that question a lot lately and it got me thinking. Is it possible that we are all considered difficult by someone? I mean, just like beauty, being difficult can be subjective, right?
Over the last 4 years I have done a lot of research on different personality types, behaviors and culture dynamics, and it has all lead me to what I consider the 3 pillars of Mindful Communication:
1. Everyone has value – if we truly believe this, then every interaction we have has the potential to have a positive impact on our lives and others.
2. Our intentions aren’t always as clear as we think –there is always room for misinterpretation and miscommunication, knowing this helps build more curiosity in our lives.
3. Everyone has a unique perspective – There are so many different factors that go into the way each of us acts and reacts. This is part of what is so beautiful about the world and also part of what causes so much miscommunication and misunderstanding.
So why are these 3 ideas so important? Well, if you do a search for dealing with difficult people you get 144 million results, and a lot of them (from the sample I drew) are all very specific about naming different types of difficult people and how to interact with them.
Here’s the issue, they all assume you truly know that this person you are dealing with is a difficult person. Now you may be thinking, I know difficult when I see it, and that’s a reasonable response, so let me follow it up with this….
Do you believe that people get up in the morning and think, I’m going to be mean, I’m going to make other people’s lives harder, and I’m going to hurt someone’s feelings today?
From the many people I have talked to over the years, I have found that ultimately most people just want to be valued and respected. Most people yearn for it, even if it is subconsciously.
So before you do a search for how to deal with that difficult person, Assume Positive Intent. That’s simply the act of breaking down our assumptions and judgments towards each interaction, so that we can move towards understanding the true intent of the other person.
Then ask these 6 questions.
Take a few minutes to really think about each of your interactions and be open to all possibilities. If you assume positive intent during this exercise you will get much better, and sometimes surprising, results. Oh and if you’re thinking I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about this person, just know that the up-front reflection can often help save time, frustration, and hurt feelings in the future.
1. How are they being difficult? Maybe they always disagree with you, make fun of you, don’t do what you ask, snap at you, or just ignore you. Start basic and continue to get more specific.
2. When and where are they being difficult? Maybe they are most obstinate in meetings, or in the morning. Or is it at the dinner table, or when you are alone, or with a group? Be as specific as possible.
3. Is their difficult attitude also directed towards others, or just you? Sometimes there is that one person in the office that everyone knows is hard to work with, and sometimes they are just oppositional with you. Think about specific interactions; are they always directed towards you specifically or is their opposition just a part of their everyday life?
4. What is their general attitude while being ‘difficult’? There are those people who complain all the time, always seeming to find the negative in everything. And then there are the people that are competitive or just want to be right. Do you notice that they are cynical, sarcastic, condescending, angry, happy, or sad when they interact with you?
5. What is your attitude when you are around them? It’s important to take responsibility for your part in the relationship, or lack thereof. Do you always approach them with a good attitude, only to be shot down with anger? Do you give off a fake smile and nod your head? Maybe you don’t hide your distain at all. Thinking about your attitude around this person is an important part of the puzzle.
6. Have other people influenced how you feel about this person? When we hear over and over again that someone is difficult, or competitive, or egotistical, we begin to approach each interaction already expecting that type of behavior. Even if they don’t prove us right, we assume that is who they are and this assumption can greatly affect our perception of them.
These questions can help do several things. They can…
– help break down assumptions and pre-judgments that we have made about a person.
– help create sympathy and sometimes empathy towards someone we normally see in a negative light
– upset the status quo and create a sense of curiosity to find out what is really going in in their lives.
Note that if after answering these questions, you still believe that the person is positively rotten, then the best thing to do is to distance yourself as much as possible. Nothing good can come of the relationship, and you don’t want to risk their bad traits rubbing off on you!
However, in most cases, there are things you can do to try to create a stronger connection, or at the very least keep their difficult attitude at bay and it starts with these 6 questions.
Had asking yourself these 6 questions helped you with a current relationship? If so tell me about it in the comments below.