Conflict Management and Difficult People
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'It's not my fault!'
Most of the things that happen when communication goes wrong are usually the other guy's fault. Like driving a car: 'I'm a good driver; it's all the other idiots who don't know what they're doing.'
Indeed, not only is it the other guy's fault, but if that person would only change, my life would be great. If he/she would just listen to what I'm saying, return my calls, be more patient, see things my way, understand where I'm coming from, then we would get on just fine, thank you very much.
This is kind of what happens with most of us around conflict and people we find difficult.
Inside our heads, that is. Our thoughts go round and round and round as we inwardly accuse the other person of all sorts of nefarious deeds. We also make long mental tick lists of what the other person needs to change in order for there to be less conflict.
Not only that, because we know just how everyone else should behave around us, when they don't (and do things we don't like), we're quite capable of thinking that they're doing it deliberately. How could they not know that what they're doing is upsetting to me?
These are the kinds of thoughts that are swimming around inside our brains when we're dealing with awkward people.
On the outside it's usually quite a different story.
Here are a few of the options that people take around conflict and difficult people:
- Avoid conflict as much as possible
- 'Evidence collect'
- Talk to the wrong people
- Be right while the other person is wrong
- Let them have it between the eyes.
None of these strategies help in any way to resolve conflict or deal with our difficult person effectively. They are designed to make us feel better, or at least justified in our feelings and actions, but they don't change the situation and they most certainly will make it worse.
It's You Not Them
If you find someone rubs you up the wrong way, someone who you find really difficult to deal with, then it is almost certainly about you and not them.
Yes, the world every once in a while throws up someone who is universally recognised as difficult. But for the most part, if you have a problem with someone, look to yourself first, instead of immediately placing the blame on him or her for being difficult, and the onus on them to change to make it better for you.
Get this: they are not responsible for how you feel - you are!
If you make them responsible for how you feel, you give them a whole lot of power, and you can easily make yourself a victim to them. Under these circumstances, they are in control of the relationship, whether they know it or not (or even want it or not).
Yes, of course, there are people who bully - and that's horrible. You may have a client or colleague who takes every opportunity to try to humiliate you - and that's awful. But the bottom line is still that you can either choose to be a victim to their personalities and communication styles, or you can take charge of the relationships and manage them, instead of letting them manage you.
When it comes to defining difficult people, it's completely subjective. One person's difficult person is another person's friend. You might be the only one in the office who doesn't get on with this 'monster'; alternatively, you might be the only one who does.
I'm Fine. It's Everyone Else
Here's something else even more startling to think about.
You are someone's difficult person. Yes you are.
We all are.
Someone, somewhere finds each of us really difficult to deal with. Just as in the above example at Impact Factory, it can feel quite disturbing to recognise that someone else thinks we are a problem.
Inside ourselves we think we're OK. When we look out at the world through the filter of our own eyes, it can be very hard sometimes to 'see' that the world looks very different to someone else.
That in turn makes it difficult for us to 'see' that they approach communication differently as well. When we expect other people to treat the world the way we do: to be attuned to the things we are attuned to; to respond the way we do.
When this doesn't happen; when someone else's communication style seems diametrically opposed to our own, then real conflict will come to pass and we may find it hard to know what to do.
First let's look at you.
How are you difficult? What do you do that might get up someone's nose or that they might find problematic? We're not saying they're 'right'. We just want you to give some thought to the fact that there are people out there who find you just as difficult as you find your difficult person.
Given that it's you and not them; given that you are someone else's difficult person, how likely is it that you're going to get a personality transplant and become how they might wish you to behave?
In turn, how likely is it that your difficult person is going to go out, get a personality transplant, and become how you want them to be?
If things stay like this, you get to maintain the status quo, but you're still no closer to resolving conflict, are you?
The Good News
Yes, in all of this there really is good news. Earlier we mentioned that the more you make your difficult person responsible for how you feel, the more power they have in the relationship. If you do nothing to change the current dynamic you stay passive and let things happen to you.
You have the power to change the communication.
By change the communication, we mean change what you do and what you say. What you do, what you say and how you say it will all create changes in the dynamic between you and other person. You may not always get what you want, but you will certainly be in charge of what happens between the two of you.
Here are some things you could try to help resolve conflict and help you get on better with your problem person.
- Figure out what's really going on
- Deal with things as they arise
- Avoid blaming
- Build bridges
- Set clear boundaries
- You don't have to go it alone
- Stop colluding
- Walk Away
You are always going to have difficult people in your life. You'll find people difficult; someone else will find you difficult. However, with a bit of practise you can ensure that they don't rule your life, your thoughts, your feelings.
You might even get to the place where you initiate conflict just so that you can get to a resolution!
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