Sun | Dec 5, 2021

Dealing with difficult people

Published:Monday | May 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Trevor Smith

Life is difficult and seems to get more so every day. We are stressed by the demands of our jobs, our families, and people we interact with daily, and we get bogged down. But before we get a new job and interact with different people, maybe all we need to do is change our approach.

This week, Outlook continues a new series - Change your Mindset, Change your Life. With the help of certified behaviour modification coach and author Trevor E. S. Smith, we will help you through some of the bumps and scrapes of life - to be more productive, deal with difficult people, and a host of other topics, with his insightful perspective and boost of confidence for life.

Maybe you just can't see eye to eye on any issue with this individual; or they drive you up a wall; or maybe you just find their habit revolting.They may also be the pompous and overbearing one; the sneak or the news carrier.

Many of us experience painful encounters. Depending on the frequency of the negative experiences and their emotional impact, we may label the offender 'a difficult person'.

A different angle

I want to share a different perspective on the issue of dealing with difficult people. My approach starts with an editing exercise that makes a huge difference.

Change the subject as follows: 'Dealing With Difficult Persons Situations'.

Learning to separate the behaviour (action) from the person doing it is a very important step in being able to promote a better relationship.

Here is an example: One of your least favourite colleagues makes a point during your presentation. You get very upset at what you see as an attempt to put you down. "She is always negative and fighting against me," you think.

On another occasion, your best friend interrupts your presentation to offer what you quickly rationalise as an embellishment of your ideas.

In this scenario, your response is coloured by your relationship with the parties. You have packaged the behaviour with the view that you hold of each individual. It could well be that, if the colleague had said what your friend shared, you would still have been upset.

Key takeaway

We can make a dramatic advancement in our interpersonal relationships if we constantly train ourselves to view actions independently of their source. Separate the behaviour from the person.

What that means in our example is that you ought to put yourself in the position of being able to objectively listen to comments. That gives you the option to choose how you respond. When your response is dictated by how you feel about others, you give up the right to choose. You become trapped in knee-jerk reactions that restrict your options.

Consider this: If we label someone as a difficult person, we are actually sub-consciously creating an environment in which we only have negative interactions with them. We expect the worst and, not surprisingly, the self-fulfilling prophecy comes to fruition.

Test-drive the alternative:

1. Banish the thought of difficult people. Think only of difficult situations.

2. Take the time to identify what actions (behaviour) of the person you find upsetting.

a. Move beyond "I don't like him or her".

b. Narrow it down to specifically what they do that you dislike.

3. Reflect on why the behaviour upsets you.

a. A betrayal of trust?

b. Runs counter to your values?

c. In all honesty, is it your own bias and prejudice that is the root cause?

4. Carefully seek to recall whether you have been exposed to the behaviour from anyone else.

a. If so, how did you feel?

b. Is your level of upset different based on who is doing the action?

5. Spare no effort to see if the behaviour is a part of your make-up that you have fought to correct.

a. We tend to complain about things that we do ourselves - the old idea that one finger points out, but four are pointing inwards.

b. There is evidence to suggest that we are especially upset about habits that persist in us despite our best efforts. In those circumstances, the very sign of the behaviour produces annoyance - as much with ourselves as with the other party.

6. Remember, putting labels on others places limits on your ability to relate to them with flexibility and an open mind.

7. Start with a clean sheet with respect to incidents. That enables the parties to deal with this situation and not to cloud the issue with matters that are not directly relevant to this incident.

• Trevor E. S. Smith is a behaviour modification coach with the Success with People Academy, which is recognised by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for the SHRM-CPSM or SHRM-SCPSM Certifications. Joint venture partner Extended DISC/FinxS Caribbean.