Tomorrow morning I’ll be on the road traveling to Southeastern North Carolina to present a program, “How To Deal With Difficult People.” The real title is, “How to Handle Jerks!”
We can’t use the real title in promotions because it would: A. Offend some people B. When someone went to their bosses to ask if they could attend the program their bosses might think that they—the bosses—were the jerks.
So, it’s Difficult People.
You’re probably like me and most of the folks who will be in the program tomorrow. You don’t want to think about how to deal with difficult people you just want them to change or be gone. With some of them, if a bus hit’em, it would not be a bad outcome.
I have a couple of difficult people in my life. One of them came with a person who came into my life. The other came with a project I was involved in.
Both these folks have caused stress, hard feelings (that’s a Southern phrase meaning conflict) and wasted time.
While studying up for the presentation I came across a way to think about difficult people that I hadn’t tried: Put yourself in their shoes. If you look at the situation through their lenses you can often determine why they act like they do. The realization can be a real, “Aha!” moment.
The Put Yourself In the Other Person’s Shoes strategy can, as I noted, have unexpected results. What if you use it and realize you were the one at fault? That doesn’t feel very good, does it? At the same time, a little self-awareness can be a good thing.
Aristotle said, “The best knowledge is self-knowledge. It’s also the most difficult to gain.”
Interestingly and unexpectedly, when I tried the strategy it succeeded in helping me understand one of the situations and lower the stress caused by the difficult person.
When I put myself in the person’s shoes I realized that in my contact with them I acted in a way that meant they did not get what they wanted and expected. I realized that in the project in which I worked with them they were more interested in being the center of attention than creating the outcome for which the project was designed. I focused on outcome and didn’t focus on them. They didn’t get what they wanted so they became difficult.
By looking at the situation from both sides I realized that, in the end, I did the right thing and the other person didn’t like it. Looking back though, I realized I could have, and should have, handled the situation differently. I’d still go for the outcome as I did, but when they acted as childishly as they did I wouldn’t respond by poking a stick at them, as I did, and making matters worse.
I should have simply let the matter drop and moved on.
Next time I’ll know…I hope.
Who’s your difficult person? What does the situation look like through their lens?