I generally regard the world – and my life in particular – as a place to watch, wonder and learn. I guess that’s why the Universe continues to send me so many lessons aboutdealing with difficult people!
The latest one is my own daughter – my oldest, who is 13 years old. She is a wonderful young lady and I feel blessed to be her mom. But… lately, she finds fault with absolutely everything I do. It’s my own “Ah-hah”, an experience to practice what I preach as she presents herself to me as a difficult person in my own home to deal with each day.
I call her “difficult” because I never know whether I’m going to be thanked for doing something right, or skewered for doing something wrong – in her opinion. In fact, from day to day I’m never quite sure what will make her happy – or upset.
So, the lesson I am learning from this is to practice what I preach in my book “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets of Human Behavior”, and turn this experience into a chance to apply the five secrets.
For example, once I started to think about Secret #1 – it’s all about me – I realized that much of my defensiveness, or even emotional outrage, comes from my belief that she “should respect” me as her mother. Now, maybe she should, but because I put up that filter in front of our interactions, I focus more on my need for respect, rather than her need to act out for some reason.
My filter sometimes comes up when she walks into the room, and I have to practice “Interested Observer” (IO) to step outside and watch what’s happening between us. When I can adopt the IO role, it’s amazing how much more smoothly our interactions go. I think I usually have a mental wall between us that screams “respect me!” and I stand ready for her to act out defiantly. When I drop my filter and my need for her respect, she seems to drop her “charging” attitude in response.
And Secret #4 – don’t assume I know what you mean – comes in handy. Many times she will share something with me but I don’t fully understand the context. Because I am rushed, or otherwise preoccupied, I give her the “Uh-huh, that’s nice honey” type of response. Of course she gets mad at me! I’m not really listening, and I’m not getting the context of what she is telling me and why.
When I can step outside – IO again – I often realize what I’ve done. I go to her afterward and ask for another chance to really listen. Depending on her mood, I may or may not get that chance right away, but I know that she understands I have realized I’ve done this and have reached out to her to reconnect.
Secret #5 is particularly useful to me – I’m okay, you are most definitely not okay. Because we’ve had a few months of this “difficult” dance together, I will sometimes be quick to offer a criticism. After all, I AM the mom – she is just the youngster. But when I can also grow up in that moment, and realize she is the youngster but she is also MY teacher, I am able to be much more open to what she may be teaching me. In those moments I realize that I have as much to learn as she does. We become equal.
I have lots to learn, but I thank my daughter for reminding me that applying the five secrets takes work every single day. It is not easy, but it is very gratifying when a relationship strengthens as a result of the effort.