You’re So Difficult
You know you are not perfect, but some of those around you are a real pain to deal with. Why are they so difficult to get on with? Who knows, but the easiest way forward is to reduce the stress to a minimum by avoiding them or minimizing any interactions. I mean, come on, putting up with these people is exhausting and just wastes a lot of valuable time.
That may be true, but in fact unresolved conflicts, miscommunication and diminished information exchange, leads to even greater time wastage, morale hits and the bottom line of lost productivity. If your rivals are dealing better with these internal issues than you are, in the end, their team will win in the marketplace.
One of the conundrums is defining "difficult". It varies so much between individuals and from situation to situation. Nevertheless, we can all recognize trouble immediately when we see it. Can we control other people, especially those we deem difficult? Good luck on that one! We can however control ourselves in any situation or relationship. A bit of self-reflection will help to flush out our perceptions, biases, attitudes, behaviours, feelings and communication style that might be fueling conflict.
Past situation analysis is a handy tool to plumb the depths of our unhappiness with others. Reflect on a situation where you didn’t handle the difficult person well and things rapidly deteriorated. What was the trigger point for you or them? What was the outcome after the confrontation? Is it possible you contributed to the explosion of emotions? What was the biggest lesson you came away with from this meltdown? Additionally, have there been any situations where you did pretty well handing a difficult colleague? What worked, what was the outcome and what did you learn as a result?
A handy helper in the tool box of dealing with the difficult is "the benefit of the doubt". This means suspending the attractive beliefs that you are right, they are wrong, you are perfect and they are an idiot. Before allowing the chemical reaction in the body to take over and go into fight or flight mode, mentally just hit the pause button for 6 seconds.
What do you know about this person that might be triggering their behavior that you find upsetting or at the least plain annoying? Is there some historical context operating here around they way they were raised, the life experiences they have had and the influences they have absorbed? Is this a communication issue because neither of you are a native speaker of the same language? Keep the pause button on hold for another 6 seconds and think if there is some situational context in play here. Have they scratched the duco on their new car that morning, had a fight with their partner at home, just been royally chewed out by their boss, etc?
When we take a breath and pause, we can have better control over how we react to them, rather than letting the chemical surge take over. There are some useful human relations principles we can apply to move us into a positive mental framework. Instead of telling others what they need to do to fly straight, we can swap in some questions instead. What led them to reach that conclusion? What experience has led them to believe their idea is the best solution? The hard bit is biting our tongue after we have asked the question, so that we don’t cut them off and jump in with our own shiny insight. Instead, hear them out and ask follow up questions. This now allows us to better understand what is driving the disagreement or their behavior.
Letting them save face is a handy idea. Our egos can lock us into positions we don’t fully hold, because we don’t want to be seen to be backing down. We can take the ego bit out of the equation by how we communicate during the interaction. Being polite, reasonable and open goes a long way to reaching a resolution.
We might even disarm them with praise and honest appreciation for raising their countervailing views with us. When they know there is likely to be a disagreement, they mentally gear up for battle. By not providing a target there is no battle. We could thank them for being forthright and candid. We might mention some mistakes we have made in the past and how we have resolved to do a better job of educating ourselves and thank them for widening our range of viewpoints. There is nothing more disconcerting than trying to argue with someone who doesn't argue back, but instead praises you.
Hard core difficult types may still try to get a rise out of us, because they need to have a fight, but let’s not fall for that one. Instead get them talking about the way they came to their conclusion and where they have seen this work well in the past. Smiling silence is our best defence, as we get them to do the talking.
Difficult people are only difficult if we allow them to annoy us. When we take the high road, they often just run out of gas because we are not supplying the fuel for the fight. This is the verbal aikido approach of not confronting or resisting attacks, but re-directing the energy along a path of our own choosing. Superior human relations skills are a powerful ally in dealing with the difficult, but they need practice and discipline.
Try using these ideas and life will get a whole lot easier!