The Difficult Ones

In the last few days I’ve done three radio interviews to help people over the holidays deal with difficult relatives, or difficult co-workers: The holiday table is set, but many people don’t want to sit at it with their relatives. The holiday work party is in a fancy location, but some don’t want to attend and deal with co-workers they don’t enjoy.

Do the difficult become more difficult at the holidays, or are we generally just more stressed and less tolerant of others? It’s important to revisit how we define “difficult.” One radio personality said to me, “What about those loud and boisterous co-workers where you just want them to shut up?!” Let’s parse this statement – it assumes that “loud and boisterous” is negative to everyone. For some people, “loud and boisterous” translates to “outgoing, upbeat and enthusiastic.” Remember that depending on our own behavioral style, our interpretation of others’ actions will be perceived through our own lens. If I’m not like you, I don’t particularly like you. I think you should change your behavior – to the way I like to do things!

At one time in my corporate career, I used to attend a holiday party where a certain senior executive always acted inappropriately toward the women in the firm. We knew this would be the case, and so no one was surprised when he did it. This is another part of dealing with those we find to be difficult – prepare in advance. You know what they are likely to do that upsets you, so have a plan before you ever walk through the door. My female colleagues and I developed a sign for each other when we needed to be saved from the senior exec. It actually became kind of fun, like a game – so even when he did his thing, instead of getting upset, we invoked our action plan!

The truth is, as much as we’d like to think differently, we always reserve the right to have a different response to people who annoy us. We can choose to let them trigger us and upset us, or we can decide “Not this time!” I like to have an image of a duck when I am dealing with someone who is particularly unpleasant to me. As they are talking, I imagine their words rolling down my body as water does off the duck’s back. It falls to the floor and I can mentally stomp on it while they are talking. I know I might not be able to change them, but I can choose not to soak in what they are saying and have it ruin my own experience.

As you head into the holidays, prepare for those times you know you will be tested. Yes, many of us are stressed out from financial concerns, worrying about what to buy – finding the “perfect” gifts (thank you to all of those advertisers out there…), baking or cooking and generally getting our homes ready for holidays. Know that your defenses may be down to start with and so you aren’t as able to think on the fly, and react quickly. Because of this – prepare. Put on your duck clothes before you walk into the party or sit down to the holiday table.

Don’t let the difficult people ruin your time – you can find the joy in spite of them, if you prepare in advance and you look for it!