Difficult people are everywhere. They’re the ones who cut you off in traffic or show up in the express checkout line with a cart full of groceries. Or they’re the ones at home or on the job who zero in on your weaknesses, giving you too many critical looks or stinging comments.
These difficult people may be a part of your daily life. They may be co-workers who make every workday a struggle, or they may be relatives who have a knack for ruining every get-together.
These difficult people may even be a part of your past, but deep inside, they’re still bugging you. Maybe you left home years ago, but memories of a parent’s put downs continue to haunt you. Or maybe an ex-boss so destroyed your confidence that you’ve never quite recovered.
What can you do if you’re forced to interact with difficult people? You will find some of the answers in my Journey to the Extraordinary program coming to Atlanta, GA on April 7-8, 2016.
That’s what Joanne Kaczmarek, a Human Resource Manager at Worldwide Distributors, did. She wrote,
“I attended your Journey to the Extraordinary program a few weeks ago and had instant success with the techniques you taught me. And I wanted to share one example of the success I’ve had.
My teenage children had friends over and were out playing in the rain. They had a blast. But with the fun came wet clothing, grass clippings in the house, and lots of wet towels.
The next morning, prior to leaving the house, I left them a note, writing down all the clean-up chores they needed to do. As I read the note I noticed that it was negative. I erased the message and wrote, ‘I’ll be home about noon. I had a good time with your friends last night. I hope you enjoyed it also. With the fun comes clean-up. Clean-up needs to be done today’.
I came home and the house was vacuumed, the food and beverage items were put away, the garbage was taken out, and the recycling was done. It was wonderful!”
As Joanne concluded, “If it wasn’t for what I learned at your Journey to the Extraordinary program, I would have left my original message. I would have also returned home with nothing accomplished. Thank you for sharing your research with others and showing us how to bring out the best in others.”
I appreciate Joanne sharing her story. But what can YOU do with the difficult people in YOUR life, starting right now? After all, you may not be able to avoid all the difficult people. And you may not be able to turn every difficult person around. But there’s quite a bit you can do to make these encounters less upsetting.
1. Let Go of Your Expectations.
As author, Joyce Landorf, says in her book, Irregular People, difficult people are deaf, dumb, and blind when it comes to your feelings. As she puts it, these folks cannot or will not be sensitive to your emotional needs, no matter how much you explain or beg. What’s worse, they may not even be capable of giving you an apology.
So let go of your expectations. Most of the time, you won’t be able to change difficult people or “clean” them up.
It’s like the man who was traveling through cannibal country. He came across a cafeteria deep in the jungle. A sign on the roof advertised the cost of each entrée. There was fried missionary for three dollars, sautéed safari guide for five dollars, and baked politician for twenty-five dollars.
The fellow asked why the politician cost so much more than the other dishes. “Ever try to clean one of those things?” replied the chef.
Likewise, you won’t have much luck “cleaning” up difficult people. So if you don’t expect too much from them, you won’t get nearly as hurt or upset when you’re interacting with them.
2. Get Some Understanding of Difficult People.
You don’t have to agree with or like difficult people, but you will be better off if you understand them. You’ll be in better shape to handle them.
So go ahead and get some more information. You can never have too much.
One salesman learned that when he came up to a country store and saw a gentleman who was rocking back and forth on the porch with a dog lying next to him. The salesman said, “That’s a beautiful dog. Does your dog bite?”
“Nope,” said the man in the rocking chair. So the salesman reached down and patted the dog, which of course leaped up, grabbed the man’s arm, and took a hunk.
The salesman said to the man, “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite.” The man said, “He doesn’t. But that’s not my dog.”
You have to get some more information and understanding of difficult people. You’ve got to recognize there are several types of difficult people, each one requiring a different strategy from you.
However, no matter what kind of difficult person you encounter, in every case your goal is to change the way you interact with them, not to change them personally.
For today’s purposes, let me suggest what you can do with one of the most common types of difficult people … the Critic.
3. Restrain the Critic.
Critics think they’re just being helpful, but in reality they’re bossy, arrogant, and nit-picking. They act as though they know it all, as they find the cloud in every silver lining. They think like author Gore Vidal, who said, “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
Without some intervention on your part, the Critic can deflate your self-esteem and drain your energy. You need to restrain the Critic once in a while.
Learn to deflect her arrows. Critics often say things that are quite hurtful and you may not know how to respond. You may listen to what she says and then replay the conversation in your head for hours afterwards. You may go through days of agony before you think of a good comeback.
You need a response that doesn’t require much thought when you’re still feeling numb from the bite of the Critic’s words. Sometimes you can stop a verbal assault by firmly saying, “Excuse me. That sounded like a put down. Did you mean it that way?” Such a response gives the Critic a chance to rethink her remarks, while making her realize you are aware of the negative emotional overtones.
In other words, you deflect the subtle manipulation. That’s what one young pastor learned to do. The congregation had had the same pastor for many years, but when he retired, the hiring committee found that the new crop of pastors had very different ideas about a pastor’s duties.
When the hiring committee finally found and signed on a bright young man to lead them, they were upset when he started to make a lot of changes, which resulted in budget increases. One change was hiring a man to care for the extensive church lawn and grounds.
The budget committee decided it was time for a talk and called a meeting. “We see that you have hired a man to take care of the church grounds,” they began. “Indeed, I did,” replied the young pastor, “and he does a fine job of it, too.”
“Yes,” replied the spokesman. “But we wondered if you knew that our previous pastor took care of the grounds himself?”
“Yes, I did know that,” said the young man. “And?” prompted the spokesman.
“And I called him,” replied the young pastor, “but he doesn’t want to do it anymore.”
You can also set limits on the criticism you’ll accept. For example, try saying something like this when a person is overstepping her boundaries: “You may criticize anything I do, but don’t tell me how to correct my relationship with my brother. For right now, that’s my business.”
I’m not suggesting you write off Critics and all that they say. There may be some truth or helpful insights in what they say. I’m simply suggesting that you need to take care of yourself and put things in perspective. In other words, the Critic’s comments may be important, but ultimately what you decide to do is most important. You’ve got to keep your dreams alive and not let the Critics snuff them out.
Final Thought: If you’re tired of the rat race, stop associating with rats.