Difficult People

I can be a difficult person.  For some people.  Some of the time.  Probably, you can be too.

Sometimes my energy is strong, or out of proportion. Sometimes I don’t respond in the way that the other person wants or needs. And sometimes people get upset, irritated or annoyed, with me.

Sometimes I get annoyed and irritated when I don’t get what I want or need from the other person. When they don’t listen to me in the way that I want them to, or when they  don’t understand what I am talking about because its outside their experience. I guess that makes me a difficult person, for that person, in that moment.

I have my difficult people too.  Sometimes it makes perfect sense why I find that person or situation difficult. And there are other people that I simply find difficult, for reasons I don’t yet understand.

Normally we don’t talk about such things. It’s easier to judge or blame the other, so that we don’t need to look at our part in it. In any case  it’s easier to ignore them or avoid them.  After all, who wants to be around a difficult person?

I looked at some of the considered wisdom on the subject, some of the better advice I saw was over here on Forbes. I  am sure some of it can be useful. The problem is that a lot of the advice is all about the other person: how you can protect yourself from these difficult people, and avoid them, and therefore continue to judge them.  Ultimately that doesn’t solve very much.

I have found a different approach more helpful. I started using this mantra whenever I feel challenged by one of my difficult people:

Here is a person, just like me:

  • This person is just like me, they are seeking some happiness for his/her life.
  • This person is just like me, they are trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.
  •  Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
  • Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfil his/her needs.

This person in many ways is just like me.

(with huge thanks to Anita Sheehan for introducing me to this practice)

Clipart arguing

Take a look at this image and see who you identify with – the one in blue or the one in orange?  You probably know how the blue one is feeling, but what might it be like to be behaving like the orange one? Is it possible that you can behave like him sometimes?  Just a little bit?

So instead of falling into negative thoughts, or blame or judgement – see if you can  recognise that this other person suffers just like you do. From my perspective,  I find this approach brings me more peace and calm than I can find otherwise.

I am not running away from the difficult situation between us.
I am not pretending thing are OK when they are not.

Sometimes that other person really did do something that was not good for me, or they judged me, or they did something that I felt was wrong.  And maybe  sometimes I just got triggered, and over-reacted.  It probably happens to all of us.

AND at the same time, whatever they did or didn’t do they are also a human being with fears and hopes and longings, just like I am.

Of course, depending on the situation, it  can take a while to get to this place and to really mean it.

I invite you to play with it.

I gave this exercise recently in a two-day training I was giving for a client.  Much to my surprise at the end of the training they asked to do this exercise again because they felt it would be a great way for them to go back out in to the everyday world.

I invite you to check out, who, in your circle, you find most difficult or annoying.  I invite you to try out this mantra for that person and see what happens.  And if you don’t have anyone you can always try it with a politician?!

Please let me know how you get on in the comments below.

Empathy at Work

empathy at work

 

The other day I was with a client – a senior executive, with a challenging role, recently arrived in Belgium. He told me how he was struggling with some of his colleagues. They weren’t open to the solutions that he and his team of consultants wanted to implement. Solutions that involved a reduction in head count, among other significant and unpopular changes. He seemed genuinely surprised that his ideas were meeting with resistance. He informed me that people were lazy and that they should be able to see how everyone would benefit. I invited him, just for a moment, to put himself into the shoes of his colleagues, to see how they might be feeling. I invited him to send them some good will in the face of their challenging situation. He said it was easier to send empathy to the people who were working hard and on board with his plans. He struggled to send good will to the people resisting his plans and whom he thought were lazy.

Meanwhile, I was facing a similar challenge to get past my own judgments. It wasn’t so easy to find my own good will and empathy for this man with his challenging situation!

Learning to do this is definitely worthwhile, as the research is confirming. Empathy is now recognised as a key leadership quality.

For example here http://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/EmpathyInTheWorkplace.pdf and here https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/05/30/why-empathy-is-the-force-that-moves-business-forward/#4896e028169e

What I find particularly interesting is that the research shows that empathy for others brings positive effects for you as well. It helps to reduce your own stress. It helps you get out of your self and make room for the needs and concerns of others. It helps to calms the nervous system and reduces the stress response, and it can reduce the risk of burnout. You can read about it here:
https://hbr.org/2017/05/prevent-burnout-by-making-compassion-a-habit

So how do you build empathy?

Here are a few of my tips:

Develop active listening skills
Check your understanding by feeding back what you heard. Doing this you will become much more present. Its too easy to fall into thinking what we will say next, and then we don’t actually hear what the person is saying. If you are going to summarize what they have told you, you listen in a different way. and the person will feel really heard by you. You don’t have to agree with them, but you can let them know that you heard what they say.

Stay open:
Perhaps your colleagues, have a perspective or an idea that can help your project to go forwards. If you have already decided that your way is best, then you will miss the chance to develop an even better solution.

Notice
Notice if you hold are holding judgments.- about the person or what they are saying. Notice if you are having some kind of reaction, if you disagree with them. The point is to notice it, and not to get caught up in it. This means finding distance from your own negativity, so that it doesn’t damage the relationship. When I worked with my client I saw my own judgments of him. I could acknowledged them for being there, and I kept coming back to give my attention to the client. This is where the focusing method which I use can be so helpful.

Give yourself Empathy
Give your self the same emapthy and good will that you want others to extend to you. This means including yourself as you think of all the challenges that people are facing. You too have your challenges and it is not easy for you in those situations.

Be grateful
A sense of gratitude bring a wider perspective. Even if you have challenging colleagues, maybe you can be grateful that you have a a job and some security. If you have challenges, isn’t that better than work that is boring or unstimulating?

Its another sunny day in Belgium – this is definitely something to be grateful for!