Dealing with Difficult People is Like Learning how to Tap Dance

I’ve been taking a tap dancing class at the local studio in my town for several weeks now. I joined a class with experienced tappers, and I have never done this before in my life. Boy, do I struggle! I seem to understand the steps when they are shown to me slowly, and I follow along just perfectly. But then… then the music starts and I am lost at the second tap.

The “Cincinnati”, a “flap” versus a “shuffle” – there are so many steps and terms to understand. I asked the instructor one day for a paper with our act on it, and I couldn’t even decipher what she gave me!

So what’s my tap class got to do with dealing with difficult people? Well, the experience has humbled me in my work with others when I am teaching, training or coaching on new concepts and ideas.

Many things that I teach come easily to me – I see them so clearly and know just what a client of mine needs to do. But I have to catch myself and make sure I am walking through the steps very carefully and very slowly. I need to take the time to make sure the listener can really understand – and relate what I’m saying to their own experience.

It’s the same with difficult people. Changing our responses and our approaches to those people who have annoyed us, or otherwise made our life difficult, takes time. It takes new dance steps. In fact, the way we behave in relationships is often likened to a dance – you make your move, and then I make mine.

It’s important when working to change behavior that we give ourselves a break and realize that we don’t know these steps by heart! We have to take it slowly, and practice, practice, practice.

It’s amazing to me that on the weeks when I find time to practice – on an airplane, sitting here typing, at my kitchen sink –I do so much better than when I don’t practice at all. The nights I run in, grab my shoes and run out again without even thinking about tap all week typically do not go so well!

So, let’s become expert dancers together! I’ll practice my flap and shuffle, and you practice your role of “interested observer” this week.