This week I had the pleasure of teaching a class at Brookline Adult Education on “Dealing with Difficult People.” Predictably, every participant comes in looking for the “secret” to turn that difficult person into someone they want to deal with! The fun part of the process is when they have the ah-huh! experience that maybe it is not entirely the other person’s fault, that we each have our ways of making things more difficult for ourselves and for others.
If we are honest about our own style and approach, we’ll admit that many times what we do and the way we do it works just fine for us. We get what we want, or we achieve something and we think “I like my style!” But when we run into those difficult people or difficult situations out there that create trouble for us and create havoc with our emotions and reactions, why are we so quick to point the finger and say, “That other person is the problem?” Why don’t we immediately say, “How is my style hurting me in this exchange?”
As I’ve written in my book, “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior,” we each have our own filters on the world, behavioral styles and things we care about. The real difficulty comes when my approach and what I care about runs into you – with your different approach, filters and style.
Rather than looking for ways to understand why I am triggered by your actions, or looking at ways that I may be creating difficulty, I assume you are the problem. You are doing something that rocks my boat and I want you to stop so the waters get calm again for me.
The irony is that for others, WE are the problem. We get stressed and behave in less than attractive ways sometimes. We say things we shouldn’t. We engage in unproductive relationship behavior. There are many times in any given situation where if we were able to get outside of ourselves and see what we are doing, we would point a finger in the mirror at ourselves saying, “YOU are the difficult one!” But we rarely do this, because it is just easier for us to find fault somewhere else.
Now I’m not an advocate of beating up on oneself mercilessly either. This doesn’t help and isn’t useful for anyone. It’s just that if we operate with more awareness, we begin to see where we can make changes in our own behavior and choose in favor of collaboration instead of divisiveness.