For some reason I’ve talked to a lot of people in the last couple of weeks who were having problems with people in their lives—mostly at work. The problem when you have to deal with people who are difficult is that you have to keep dealing with them. It is the rare workplace that offers the perk of being able to trade out your coworkers on a whim. So how do you deal with the jerks?
It’s a Relationship
First of all, hard as it is, you’ve got to stop blaming the other person (EVEN IF IT IS ALL HIS FAULT). You can’t make real progress at making the situation better if you think it is all the other person’s fault. It is a relationship. A relationship by definition is between (at least) two people. If you are one of those people, you can do things that will affect the interactions between the two of you. As long as you are in the frame of mind that it is entirely the other person, you are unlikely to be open to trying some of the things that I suggest. A good book on the subject is Barry Duncan and Joe Rock’s Overcoming Relationship Impasses. Duncan and Rock’s premise is that if you stop reacting in the same pattern to the same situation, you will disrupt the normal interactions and allow a new interaction/reaction to happen that can make things better. For example, when the person starts once again with the list of all the things you do wrong, if, instead of defending, you say something like, “you’re right, it must be difficult to deal with someone who you think can’t do anything right,” the other person has no place to go next. He shuts up or says something like, “I don’t think you do EVERYTHING wrong.”
The Relationship is Half You
Ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to what is wrong with the relationship. What are you doing to improve the relationship? Before you get all exasperated with me (because it is all the other person’s fault), remember that you only have one tool to make this better—your behavior. You can’t directly control the other person’s thoughts or behaviors, so you can only use your own behavior to make a change. You are the instrument of change here.
Why Does This Person Drive You Crazy?
So, let’s start with trying to figure out with why this person drives you so batty. Ok, yeah, I know he’s an a**hole, but I know that you’ve dealt with other a**holes in your life. What is it about this one that is so bad?
- Who does this person remind you of? Your brother? Your father? Your ex?
- Which of this person’s behaviors is so bad? His micro-managing? His criticism? His inability to make a decision?
- Is there a time or a place that is worse? In meetings? In one-on-ones? When so-and-so is present?
- Are there things that happen first, before you get the urge to run screaming from the room?
If you look at the answers to these questions, can you see anything that you can change to reduce the angst that you encounter in dealing with this person? Can you not have one-on-one meetings? Can you not have meetings that include the person who makes it worse? Can you talk yourself out of the insight that this person is just like your big brother who made your life a living hell for eleven years? What change(s) can you make, either to the circumstances of spending time with this person or to your thinking that makes this person easier to deal with?
Why Do You Drive Him Nuts?
Let’s look at it the other way. What is it about you that drives him nuts? Can you spot a specific situation that seems to make it worse for him? Do you remind him of someone? Can you spot a particular behavior of yours that seems to set things off? Can you do something to change any of this?
What is he trying to accomplish? There is a great book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, by Brinkman and Kirschner, that describes common difficult people as
- The Tank (pushy, ruthless, loud and forceful)
- The Sniper (identifies your weaknesses and uses them against you)
- The Know-It-All (knows 98% of anything)
- The Grenade (when they blow their top, shrapnel hits everyone in range)
- The Yes Person (quick to agree, slow to deliver)
- The Maybe Person (keep putting off crucial decisions until it’s too late)
- The Nothing Person (no verbal feedback)
- The No Person (doleful and discouraging)
- The Whiner (there’s a plan for their lives and they’re not in it)
Recognize your a**hole in any of these? Each of these types of people is trying to accomplish something with their behavior. In other words, there is a REASON they are the way they are. The authors say that this is what these types are trying to accomplish:
- GET IT DONE: The Tank, The Sniper, and The Know-It-All
- GET APPRECIATED: The Grenade, Sniper, The Know-It-All
- GET ALONG: The Yes Person, The Maybe Person, The Nothing Person
- DO IT RIGHT: The No Person, The Whiner, The Nothing Person
(for quick description of this, see http://www.rickbrinkman.com/dealingwithpeople/ftp/dr_brinkman-color-lens.pdf )
If you help them with what they’re trying to accomplish, then they don’t have to use so much of their “difficult behaviors” to accomplish it. I know that this is hard to do. If it were easy, then none of us would experience the “a**hole people in our lives. Just because they are there, though, doesn’t mean that YOU can’t deal with them.
Finally, use my most reliable tactic—reframe the situation. Figure out a way to “see” the a**hole in a different way that allows you to interact differently with him. He’s a customer, or she’s someone’s grandmother, or he’s an alien. The effort that it takes to deal with these folks can help distract you from the difficulty. Whatever it takes.