A couple of my clients have specific issues in dealing with difficult people in their lives – a boss, a colleague, a direct report, a relative . . . Maybe you can relate to that. This month we are going to delve into that topic a bit over the course of a few blog posts.
First, it’s important to understand this – if everywhere you go you find that you are surrounded by difficult people, chances are you are actually the jerk. Since all relationships consist of the interaction between two (or more) people, we always have to look at what each one contributes. Being self-aware is helpful in every case, and especially so when dealing with someone who rubs you the wrong way. Bringing your best to an interaction does not guarantee others will do the same, but it’s a great start.
In any case, it is important to first focus on what you can control, which is your own behavior. For the next week or so, when you find yourself having to deal with someone who is especially challenging, look at your own actions and see if you are feeding into the situation. I am a huge fan of “pick your battles.” Maybe your difficulty will go away if you just stop fighting. Will the issue at hand really matter all that much in a year, a month, even a week? Giving up to get along is not always bad advice. Really focus on this for the next week and see if you can change things for the better. What is really at stake in this?
While there are some exceptions, rarely do people set out to be disagreeable. Stephen Covey’s guidance to “seek first to understand, then to be understood” is relevant here. What can you do to try and understand the other person’s point of view? How much are you actually listening vice just trying to get your own point of view across? If needed, ask the other person “Look, can you help me understand your opinion please?” If you do this, you really need to then actively listen to the person, even summarizing what you hear from them.
Sometimes our interactions with others are only short term and so they are merely transactional. With others, it is important to build a foundation of trust. By doing this early on in a relationship, when disagreements do come up, you have a better chance of working from that basis of trust to get to the best Yes. You can build trust by being dependable, doing more than your share, and really listening to others. Bringing donuts into the office every now and then helps too.
The “Yes, and . . “ rule from improv applies here. In improv comedy, whatever your partner introduces into the scene is something on which you build – Yes, and . . – and then you add your own stuff too. Applying this in a difficult situation can work – instead of arguing against others’ opinions, just accept them and then add your own, no matter how little they align. It’s just possible that together you will build something neither of you could have come up with on your own. Sure, you also might end up with a mess, but at least you have tried!
The key to working through a challenge with someone else is to focus on the facts vice the emotions. The more you can stand outside of the situation itself and try to understand the story you are telling yourself about the situation vice the facts, the more in control you will find yourself. Another key is to look for those areas where you can focus together on the future vice the past – which neither of you can change anyway.
Next time I will share some references if you are interested in deeper study on this. For now, just be aware of how you are contributing to your relationships, seek to understand even the most difficult people in your life, and see if you can find a way to get past the emotions and to the facts at hand.